• Di Renjie zhi tongtian diguo / Detective Dee and the mystery of the phantom flame

     

    Di Renjie zhi tongtian diguo or Detective Dee and the mystery of the phantom flame is a Chinese fantasy movie that takes place during the Zhou Dynasty when the first and only Chinese empress Wu Zetian started her reign. The cold, cruel and somewhat megalomaniac woman that wants to rule on her own accord and who killed several potential enemies in the past is now menaced days before her crowning. After the mysterious death of two people during the construction of a giant Buddha statue in front of the emperor's residence, she asks the Chaplain, a sort of state preceptor who speaks through a magical deer, for help. He gives her the advice to recruit the banned Detective Dee who had openly accused the empress for having possibly killed her late husband and who was one of the leading persons in a growing revolution eight years ago. Even before Detective Dee can be contacted, a group of assassins tries to kill him and another prisoner but they ultimately fail. Intrigued by the strange murders and the will to make peace with his past, Detective Dee soon discovers that black magic seems to be the cause of the deaths. Accompanied by the empress' charming but mysterious attendant and an albinistic officer in the penal system, Detective Dee has to put the pieces of the puzzle together before the crowning of the empress takes place and soon discovers a well organized conspiracy with the goal to kill the empress.

    This movie has a historic background that is though not developed in a profound way. The film rather focuses on fantastic elements around black magic, a few mild suspension moments and a couple of artistic action choreographies done by some of the best experts of several outstanding Hongkong action movies of the late eighties and early nineties. This film though wastes a little bit of potential on here as it turns out to be too diversified to truly convince in any of the genres it touches and as it lacks of a few more developed cultural and historical bits and pieces that would make the final result more authentic.

    Apart of the action choreographies, a true highlight are definitely the buildings, costumes and masquerades in the movie that were created in a very precise and professional way as it often happens to be in contemporary Chinese movies. On the other side, the special effects are less impressive and often to artificially flavoured so that they destroy the movie's certain kind of magic a few times. That's where Hollywood is still slightly ahead of modern Asian cinema.

    While the story of this movie definitely has a few good points and a couple of small twists as well, there are still some negative factors. One never really gets to know why the two persons in the beginning of the movie really had to die instead of killing the empress in an unexpected way during her crowning. The movie also has a few anachronisms such as way too modern ships in the harbour and the diplomat in the beginning of the film whose identity and role remains strangely unresolved. These flaws are pardonable if you take this movie as a fictional film only.

    In the end, you get an entertaining fantasy movie with a solidly suspenseful story, well done choreographies and stunning costumes. The movie though has no truly innovating elements, surprising moments or touching scenes. It has without a doubt a certain kind of magic after all but it is sometimes too professionally done to touch the people. This movie is rather ordinary in comparison to what the gifted director Tsui Hark has done in the past but it's still one of the more entertaining Asian movies from 2010. After all, I guess I would only recommend this film to long time fans of Asian cinema as well as of stunning costumes and artistic choreographies. I would go for a loan instead of an immediate purchase as the film is surely entertaining but nothing outstanding enough to be a worthy addition to a film collection of an Asian cinema maniac.

     

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  • Oldboy (2003)

     

    This movie got everything that a good movie needs and deserves absolutely its place within the one hundred best movies of all times on this site!

    It has its own and unique character because of a typical Asian strange atmosphere, an excellent acting, some very good ideas and interesting twists throughout the movie. You have a twisted revenge story mixed with a fatal love story in a very philosophical and moral context that makes the viewers judge and think a lot. Topics and antithesis like future and past, love and hate, revenge and forgiveness are all covered by the story and lie much closer than one may expect. The topics and the story with all its twists are complex, but very easy to understand for everyone and it is easy to approach to this movie although it is a very unique and special one. Even after several views, the movie remains profound and surprises you and is still entertaining - no matter for watching it alone at home or during a little alternative DVD night with friends with whom you may surely discuss about this piece of art!

    The film is a rare masterpiece, heavy and disturbing, but not because of a few very well done gore and action scenes, but because of the profound and twisted stories of the main characters who are all lost sinners in a very fatal way. The movie has the class to be more than an inside tip but a mainstream movie, but in the same time, the movie is far away from the ordinary revenge stories and doesn't deny his Asian flows and roots. It is a very intellectual, philosophical and personal movie, but some excellent, absurd and even artistic action, crime movie and horror elements keep the tension high so that this movie doesn't have any lengths. It is more than an entertaining movie and when you've seen it once, you will surely fall in love with it and this film request multiple viewings!

    It is fascinating how profound and artistic the Asian cinema is in comparison to a too serious European cinema and a too superficial North American cinema an this movie is an excellent example for this fact and may convince you to get more connected to the Asian cinema. Let's hope that there will be no American remake because of this movie's international inside success, because they won't be able to create the same kind of uniqueness and atmosphere. This movie is a true piece of Eastern culture!

     

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