In my head I refer to this as “The King’s Speech Syndrome” but on to more important matters, specifically the film Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. This Chinese Mystery/Kung Fu/Fantasy/Period piece has everything you could want in an action film. The film has an albino, a sort of evil empress, a really cute palace official, a wise cracking detective who can kick butt and a fight wherein the hero goes up against several talking deer.
One would think that deer capable of speech and massively outweighing a human would be able to best him but he does have a special mace as a weapon. It is sort of magical.
At this point you REALLY want to see this move or REALLY do not. That is fair enough. This is an old school Kung Fu type movie, excepting that there is a lot of CGI and camera trickery going on. The really old school films didn’t do that (mostly due to the lack of a budget). I write “kung fu type” because it is also one of those vaguely mythical history films. There is a lesson in it for your average Chinese viewer that the party is not going to be annoyed with at all. But it is also something that isn’t going to annoy a Western audience either—they likely won’t even notice this.
So shut up and save your sighs for after the movie when you can talk about jazz and tilt your beret “just so.” Is this movie beyond criticism? Hell no but for what it is intended to be? It is executed quite well. The plot is pretty silly and simple, the dialog—well who knows? I speak no dialect of Chinese but the translation is fairly goofy in parts.
This calls to mind something about the acting. It reminded me of soap opera actors and how those actors are frequently VERY good at their jobs. If you can even say the drivel that makes up the plot you have to be a good actor. Likewise, I think, in highly stylized films like this. The actors who are not good at their jobs just mug and swagger. In this film they mostly give it the old college try and pull it off—within the confines of the plot and this is not Shakespeare.
One rule is often that the amount of actual Kung Fu is inversely proportional to the skill of the actors. If they cannot act? They better be able to fight. This film doesn’t have wall to wall fights but it does have four or five great action sequences which are well choreographed and shot. The fight sequences were choreographed by Sammo Hung (who needs no introduction to Kung Fu aficionados and the rest of you can Google him). Director Tsui Hark never, NEVER, lets the film drag or get bogged down in “plot.” They use devices from voiceover to titles to tell the audience any details that might lead to a boring conversation—and that is as it should be in a film like this.
We don’t want talk, we want guys fighting deer!