Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame 2010 ★★★★

Tsui Hark’s berserk Detective Dee mystery sets the screen alight with crazed invention, whirling movement, and abstract plotting worth a dozen feeble CGI-heavy shoot-outs; the recent crop of US action movies looks utterly anaemic in comparison. Hark’s fictionalised retelling of the tale of 7th-Century courtier Di Renjie is a fantastical concoction, with Dee reimagined as a philosophical man of action, a Zen version of Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes, except that movie didn’t feature Ninja puppeteers, deranged reindeer attacks, spontaneous human combustion and face-altering acupuncture. You never quite know what madness will be thrown at you. While the garbling of the real and controversial historical legacy of Empress Wu is troubling, as a slice of entertainment this ranks with Zu Warriors and The Butterfly Murders as one of Hark’s brightest fantasies.

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