Well, “Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame,” directed by Hark Tsui, feels like a video game.
And it is a blast.
It’s 689 AD China and Empress Wu is now the first empress of China. She asks Detective Dee, who is imprisoned for wanted her dead, to solve a series of deaths where the victims mysteriously spontaneously explode. These deaths come before her inauguration. What follows is a series of conspiracies, double identities and back stabbing.
This movie comes across as someone taking their Oriental Adventures campaign and turning it into a movie. This may sound like a terrible idea, but Tsui manages to make a movie that is a lot of fun to watch especially with friends. There are over the top martial arts scenes that defy the laws of physics, a talking magical deer, and abilities that have ridiculous rules that don’t make sense. One of these abilities it the face changing technique that requires the user to stick needles inside acupuncture points to work. Yeah, it makes sense.
That’s the beauty of these kinds of movies: they are not supposed to make sense. Movies like this are for gamer to have a good and think, “Yeah, I my character can totally do that in my game.” Yes, many of the fight scenes are ridiculous and the story makes very little sense, but that’s the whole point. It does not need to be serious. The movie does not take itself serious and neither should you.
Even the one glaring plot hole in this can be excused with the old fantasy standby: A wizard did it. The movie is already so silly that if this one little detail bothers you, just watch another film.
Let’s not forget that there are the typical fantasy archetypes: The magical animal (talking seer), the weapon with the weird name (Mace of Dragon Slaying that can find a weapon’s weakness and break it), and the underground artificers colony with the wise old wizard (Doctor Donkey Wang). It’s all here with an Asian spin to them.
The only downside to this film is that the action scenes take a bit too long to start. Even when the first one starts it’s awfully short. When the fight scenes do pick up they are as exciting and ridiculous as you would expect. They are fun to watch even with the ridiculous physics defying acrobatics.
In the end, “Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame” is a great gamer movie that is sure to excite anyone who has ever played a tabletop RPG. If you go into this movie expecting a serious kung-fu you will disappointed. If you go into this movie expecting a silly movie that’s a lot of fun, then yes you’ll love it. This is one movie that is best watched with friends so you can laugh at it and think fondly of your own Oriental Adventures game. It’s the perfect gamer movie.