Friday, September 16, 2011

Tsui Hark: A Ballet of Blood (Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame)

Andy Lau, Bingbing Li, Detective Dee . . . , Indomina Releasing, 2011.

Hong Kong auteur Tsui Hark delves into another pseudo-historical fantasy adventure with the immensely entertaining Detective Dee . . . ,  an epic pageant which sweeps us off our feet. Tsui's utilization of gorgeous CGI and attention to period detail are racking, his wondrous vistas and majestic Imperial sets making our hearts beat a little faster as Sammo Hung's balletic fight scenes leave our heads spinning. The cartoonish pacing unravels the urgency of his imagic rhythms while a game cast postulates amid the industry's trademark falling petals and wispy smoke.

Andy Lau, Chao Deng, Bingbing Li and Carina Lau are all in top form, fulfilling the requirements and beyond of their stock characters, whilst talking deer, magical insects and nefarious six armed men crowd the corners of the frame. As usual in the genre, the plot is incidental as the action and imagery take center stage. Red herrings and tangled allegiances cloud the "story" as we reel on the sheer magic of Tsui's cinematic energy. One of the integral pleasures of his newest picture are the elements of film noir dissolved in a martial arts extravaganza, as stylistically intricate as the massive Buddha being erected by the evil Empress in the middle of the city.

The Wuxia mania is proliferated by attacks of logs, arrows and stampeding deer in a fury of style over substance. Only, with Tsui, the style IS the substance. The master craftsman's articulation of the action aesthetic in his Imperial detective tale, punctured by spontaneous combustions, is infectious. In the end, there may be too much narrative compressed into one film, which can wear thin. While Detective Dee may ultimately be a minor entry into an undervalued genre director's canon, lacking the circumspection of Once Upon a Time in China or Time and Tide, he definitely succeeds in cultivating another entirely immersive escapist entertainment.

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