Venice Film Festival: Hark blends fantasy, martial arts, special effects for “Detective Dee”

By Sheri Jennings, AP
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Venice: Hark revives Chinese hero Detective Dee

VENICE, Italy — Hong Kong’s action film master Tsui Hark returns to the big screen with “Detective Dee and the Mystery of Phantom Flame”, a new cloak-and-dagger martial arts blockbuster set in the Tang dynasty.

Hark blends fantasy with martial arts and special effects in a drama infused with love and intrigue that aims to create a complex but entertaining story around the historical character Detective Dee, known as Judge Dee to Western audiences.

The fact that Dee is a household name to Chinese audiences created a lot of responsibility, the director said.

“We tried to create the most fascinating Detective Dee so that we could satisfy the high expectations of the public,” Hark said Sunday, before the film’s premiere at the Venice Film Festival in competition for the Golden Lion.

Hark’s film opens in 690 A.D. Shot in China, it stars Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau as Detective Dee, who in this story is an exiled detective recruited to solve a series of mysterious deaths that are threatening the rise to power of China

Andy Lau says he stepped up to the challenge of reinventing the Dee character.

“After speaking with the director and screen writers, I understood how Dee was depicted in some films from Mainland China. And they said they wanted a different character,” the actor said.

Lau said the director gave him the homework of figuring out what type of animal Detective Dee could be, saying they would develop the character from there. The conclusion was, “He is a monkey. Swift and intelligent.”

Dee is called on to defend himself in many a spectacular fight scene as he cracks the mystery of seemingly spontaneous combustion that takes out some key palace officials. The flame’s origin is explained away by everything from magic to treason to science.

“We tried to create a complex, woven plot to draw the audience in, and, you don’t know who the murderer is until the very end, unlike other films in the genre,” Hark said.

The film is vying for the Golden Lion, which will be announced Sept. 11.

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