Sunday, June 3, 2012

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame...

As many of you are aware, last week we held Lau La-Palooza, which we hyped all week and likely drove you all crazy. HOWEVER... it was a great time, thoroughly enjoyed by eating some SWEET eggrolls, listening to a newly imported Andy Lau CD, and then slapping in a little Detective Dee for the win. An all around successful "-Palooza" if you ask us.

But enough about what WE did. 

Let's talk about this movie!

Detective Dee, or Die Renjie, is a 2010 release directed by Hark Tsui (Once Upon a Time in China, Zu Warriors, Seven Swords, etc. ), and written by Kou-fu Chen and Lin Qianyu (original story), and Jialu Zhang (screenplay).

And this my friends is where our story begins.

The year is 689 A.D. and Emperor Tang Gaozhong has died. Now, though  Wu Zetian has been a Regent for 7 years, there apparently hasn't been an emperor in charge. Now Wu Zetian (the lady with the creatively big hair) feels as though she should rise to the occasion and fill the position of Empress. Now, this is 689 A.D., so naturally there are some pretty pissed off dudes who feel their masculinity in a pinch, if you know what I mean. With this in mind, there are all sorts of conspiracies and death threats taking place.

Our film opens onto a construction site where there are hundreds of Chinese workers constructing the biggest Buddha known to man... or woman for that matter. The purpose of such an enormity? It is being built outside the coronation "theatre", so that Buddha may smile on and bless the coronation of the Empress, and revere her divine glory... and hair.

 Essentially, it's a gift. A really... really... big gift that they have to finish in time for the impending coronation. Complete it or die, which I guess no longer makes it a "gift" but rather a matter of life and death.

Now, several important men within the Chinese counsel arrive on the construction site with what appears/sounds to be a Roman soldier, which was a little vague and confusing...

Guys are about to punched and that's all that matters, right?

The big important guys all chat about the structural qualities of the Buddha, how it's central post is 82 yards in length, has super amazing structural integrity, and then they all have a drink of water to try and stave off the sweltering heat of the smelting pot inside the Buddha. All is right on the western front up to this point.

Now, there is a bit of a hullabaloo amongst the workers regarding the careless moving of some protective amulets and they press Shatuo Zhong, the foreman, to speak with Master Jai about his reckless actions and how they are sure to bring death and burning, or at least some bad luck upon them all if not put back properly. Not wanting to look like a careless oaf in front of his guests, Master Jai instructs Zhong to put the amulets back in place, and then he heads out onto the veranda where...


People are whiggin' out, an investigation ensues, and it is here that we are introduced to the extremely hostile albino Pei Donglai. Now, though extremely adept, observant, and always one step ahead of everyone else, he's a little too quick to start with the slicing and dicing. Very much a "shoot first and ask questions later" kind of guy. 

Now, during the finger pointing session as to who the murder is, Pei notices that Zhong is hiding his hand. Oh CRAAAP... what's he hiding? A bottle of poison? A self made pipe bomb? It's... it's...

(duh, duh, duh)

Pei Donglai tenderizes him right good, trying to beat the truth out, and then sort of passively chastises him for having lost his hand due to his allegiance to Detective Dee, calling him a dork and laughing at Zhong's misfortune like a "Grade A" asshat. Like he should laugh... (phsssst)... Albino Boy.

The general inspector then gets in on the action and tries to beat the details out of Zhong. It is here that Zhong states the Master Jia was struck dead by divine intervention for having disrespectfully messed with the amulets. This naturally goes over like a fart in church. However, realizing that he is late for an appointment with Wu Zetian, the inspector places his guards in charge and rides off  with Donglai to the palace where he meets Wu Zetian and her gold clad entourage, and ...

(are you seeing a trend form here?)

Naturally, everyone WHIGGS out thinking that this is another assassination attempt, and there is just horses, horse ramming,soldiers and fire all over the place. 

We are then transported into the inner chambers of the stressed out Wu Zetian who has amazingly large hair and is still refusing to eat, despite her right hand woman acting as the poison tester and making sure her favorite soup is a-ok for the eating. And, there is an endearing exchange between the two ladies, and a dual purpose comment about survival. And then suddenly, it is announced that the Chaplain's Talking Deer has arrived with a very important message for Wu Zetian.

Wait. What? 
A talking deer? 

(checks the cover of the DVD case to make sure we're watching Detective Dee, because thus far we've had a whole lot of mysterious stuff... but no Detective.)

So, yeah. The talking deer. See, the Chaplain is on a religious sabbatical in the temple, and thus sent his deer to do all the talking. During the conversation between Wu Zetian and the deer, we get a mysterious message about how Venus has been trapped for 8 years and that the kingdom will not have peace until he is released.

(checks the DVD case again)

Now, if this doesn't make a whole lot of sense to you... it's all ok. Via the magic of google translator set  to translate from English to Mystical Chinese Deer, along with Wu Zetian's amazing deciphering abilities, we are able to decode the message and find out that the deer is telling her to release Detective Dee from the prison where he has been held for 8 years as a result of his opposition and resulting rebellion against her. She immediately tells her right hand woman, poison tester, warlady, kung fu killer, Jing'er to go find out if Detective Dee is still alive and in prison. Jing'er begs to have the whole thing ignored. But, she gets shot down and off to prison she goes.

Upon arriving at the prison, Jing'er makes perhaps one of the toughest dismounts E-V-A-R in the history of dismounts. We sort of felt obligated to hold up score cards!


We find a rather scraggly pair of men shackled together and taking discarded memorial to the furnace to be burned. In the middle of their exchange about the state of the nation, a prison break, etc...


Well, ok. Probably not really Ninja. But at least of bunch of guys with some seriously covert skills. The resulting fight reveals that blind man is Detective Dee, and he is most certainly NOT blind. He was faking it. Jing'er realizes by now that something has gone awry, and she quickly cracks out the "Whip of Wonder" (Yes, that is our official name for it), and lays the smack down. Before too long you've got horse choppers and arrows and a whip and some HIIII YAH!!! The whole thing ends with Ninja jumping into the furnace while their backup guys flee the scene.

After a fairly adorable exchange between Detective Dee and the blind old man, he is whisked away to the palace where we find Wu Zetian, touting some SERIOUSLY wicked eyebrow business, watching a Chinese version of "Beat the living hell outta your opponent", otherwise known as a military examination. It is here that the still scruffy looking Detective Dee is brought up to speed by Wu Zetian. She reinstates him as the Imperial Commissioner in charge of the Phantom Flame case, which of course will need to be solved BEFORE her coronation as Empress... which is like, 4 days away.
Nice timeline lady!

And, it is in this scene that you begin question who's side Wu Zetian is on. Is she good? Is she bad? Is she a crazy renegade with decorative hair and crazy eyebrows??? Either way Jing'er is absolutely NOT pleased by the whole thing and would much rather "off" Detective Dee at her first chance. This is entirely confirmed as the two ride off together to his lodging arrangements.

 If the kids aren't in bed yet, we recommend you scuffle them off as there is a rather aggressive, quasi-nekkit bit coming up...

OK. So, Jing'er and Detective Dee arrive at this LOVELY Chinese "cottage" on a pond, with moonlight and singing frogs and... (sigh). Jing'er brings him up to speed on who the key players are, who has how many men in what army, etc. She returns his uniform to him, sans his Dragon Mace (aka "Whippin' Stick"), and then a sexually charged scene of hate, obligation, attraction, pride, fighting, and spitting of water "IN YOUR FACE!" unfolds.

And, just as things get sorta steamy...

Or, at least those Ninja look-alikes.

About a bazillion and half arrows fly through the windows at the nekkit Jing'er and Detective Dee. There are arrows on the floor, the ceiling, through the bird, in the chair, on the wall, in that post over there... it's like they're sitting on a porcupine! And just when you think it is all over, you see an assassin sneaking up with a lantern to see if they are dead. Perfect opportunity for Jing'er to and Detective Dee to launch into a surprise counter attack, right? NOOOOOOO!!!! Jing'er reaches out to open up the door!!! This naturally results in about 487 more arrows flying into the little cottage. How they escape the whole thing is a matter of sheer Kung Fu movie magic. 

In a nutshell, Dee takes off on a foot chase, only to run into the Prince... who tries to bribe him until Jing'er arrives on the scene.

Next day dawns and Dee is officially commissioned into the position of Chief Investigator. The investigation begins with a study of the remains and a visit to the massive Buddha. Donglai, being his usual quick to break arms self, is rather shifty eyed and accusatory during this whole thing. In the middle of an autopsy, Dee's lovely yellow canary BURSTS into flames, just like the other two men.

HHrrrmmm... the bird was shot with one of the 80 bazillion arrows. The arrows contain liquid poison.

Dee asks his former assistant, Zhong. Yes. That would be the very same Zhong that is the "foreman" of the Buddha building site. They have a natter over fire beetles, and realize that the only person who would know anything about them would be the former palace alchemist and doctor, Donkey Wang.


No. We didn't make that up. That is SERIOUSLY what his name is. And, he can only be found in the Phantom Market, a sort of underground black market freakshow of epic proportions. It is here that Donkey Wang tells Dee that he had the fire beetles and was trying to concoct a potion that turned out to be an epic failure. So, he burned the site to the ground and hoped that all the fire beetles went down with it... though he didn't actually bother to check (facepalm)

And where would this site be? 
Oh, yeah... right where the Chaplain has built his monastery. 

DUDE!! No wonder they call you Donkey Wang!!

And, just as you are finding out what the whole hullabaloo is surrounding the fire beetles, The Chaplain and his crazy splitting self arrives on the scene and makes trouble, attempting to kill Mr. Wang. (Snirk. Sorry. No matter how you say it, it's still funny) Out comes the Whip of Wonder, the Sword of Undoing, some flying kicks and punching, and then Jing'er saying that she KNOWS this isn't the Chaplain, but rather a dirty trick... because she knows the Chaplain personally. Then, Donglai notices the Ninja look-alikes up in the cliff face with some seriously crazy puppetry going on. Shoot... and I thought that was all CG. (teeehehehee)

Jing'er and Donglai chase after the Chaplain while Dee and ... Mr. Wang head to the surface. Upon arrival in a safehouse locale, Mr. Wang reveals that he is in disguise, using a sort of acupuncture, morphing technique. Dee has a montage here and realizes that Jing'er IS the Chaplain and is using the same technique to disguise herself.

So, to summarize: We KNOW that Jing'er is the Chaplain. We don't know what stance to take with Wu Zetian, We're not sure about Donglai because he's exceedingly shifty. WHODUNNIT???

(OK. We realize that we've dragged this on here, so we're going to try to succinctly wrap this)

As Dee and Donglai are walking and talking about the case, trying to unravel the mysteries at hand, and figure out how to get permission to meet with the Chaplain, they are confronted in public by the Prince. Yeah, the same guy that tried to bribe Dee two days back. He has chosen to bestow the Dragon Mace (aka Whippin' Stick) back up on Dee. Then he plants the seed that Wu Zetian ordered the former Emperor to be poisoned.


OK. So, Dee and Donglai decide to split up in order to cover more ground. Dee heads off to have a little chat with Wu Zetian about the whole thing, and to ask permission to go to the forbidden monastery. Donglai off to Master Jin's (fire guy #1) residence to see if he can dig up any info. The cocky prince gets shot in the head with a poisoned arrow and bursts into flames, Donglai finds that Master Jin's last inspection of the Buddha revealed unapproved alterations, and Dee confirms that Jing'er is in fact the Chaplain. After a bit of a cat and mouse confrontation, Dee tells Jing'er that Wu Zetian has every intention of sending the "Chaplain" away upon her coronation.


Things go awry and Dee suddenly finds himself fighting talking deer, of which he kicks one in the face... which IS pretty sweet no matter what side of the PETA fence you're on. A chase ensues, a drug is administered, and Dee is accidentally stabbed in the chest by the shrapnel of Jing'er's sword.

As she attempts to return him to the palace so that he can get treatment, they get ambushed, she gets shot with spears, and both are pretty much dead meat. However, she somehow manages to climb a tree with Dee on her back, making them virtually undetectable to the Quasi-Ninja that keep popping up periodically. 

When Dee comes too, he realizes that she is really, really hurt, loads her onto a pony, gets the low-down on the Chaplain figure (a clever cover set up to put fear into people via the hand of both Wu Zetian and Jing'er). 

In the end, she makes it to the palace and ends up dying in the arms of Wu Zetian... but only after it is implied that there was an unspoken, unrealized love interest relationship between the two of them.

SO, Dee heads back home, looking to connect back with Donglai. Upon arrival, he discovers that his front door has been boobie trapped. But to what???

(wait for it.... wait for it...)

Poor Donglai, our delicate albino friend has been strapped to a post, completely exposed to the sun, and filled with fire beetle venom. When the boobie trap is sprung, the black shroud over him is ripped away and he is burnt to a fine crisp in mere seconds... 


(Well played albino boy!)

Ok, So... Jing'er is dead, but was not the culprit. Donglai is dead, be he wasn't the culprit. Wu Zetian is still alive, but why would she create chaos upon the eve of her coronation??? SO, WHODUNNIT??? 

Dee opens Master Jin's paperwork and realizes that the Buddha has been structurally compromised. But who would have the authority to do that? 


As it turns out Zhong was looking for some sweet, sweet payback after he spent 8 years in prison and had his hand cut off only after being tortured. He made the whole false trail of evidence to throw Dee off and squish the Empress before anyone was the wiser. So, Dee confronts him, a sweet flying, punching, swinging from chains, hot lava, FIRE BEETLES fight scene takes place. And it is glorious. 

In the end, the Buddha falls in a different direction than intended, Zhong bursts into flames and refuses to accept defeat, the Empress is saved, and Dee must flee to the Phantom Market far away from the light as he has been injected with the poison of the fire beetles. 


Ok. So, there is so much in this movie that you REALLY need to see it for yourself. Why? Because there just isn't enough blog space OR time for us to really detail it all for you. You can rent it from any brick and mortar shop, or pretty much any digital rental provider. It isn't on Netflix yet, but I would imagine it should hit it within the next 6 months.

~The Mavens

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