Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p resolution encoded using the
AVCcodec and framed within a theatrically correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The disc from Vicol Entertainment is locked to Region A.
The opening sequences set up viewers’ expectations regarding the visual standard of this disc extremely well. Firstly there is a lack of any noticeable print damage. The opening text, stylised with a flashy dissolving smoke effect, shows no signs of banding or problems with the subtle gradations. The mixing of CG and live action footage, with vast panoramas and silky blue skies is generally on the impressive side, with the obvious disparity that arrives from sharpening the actors against such settings being less jarring that one might expect. The canopy of an azure sky, with delicate shades contained within doesn’t fall into the trap of banding either, and once we enter the giant Buddha the level of shadow detail and the handling in low light levels is extremely strong. There was merely one moment where noise crept into the frame in such conditions that I could note.
Skin tones are absolutely spot on, the disc copes with the shift from an albino in low light to a worker in the blazing sunshine without missing a beat and the overall colour palette is very pleasing in its naturalistic manner, emphasising some primaries like red and blue for impact. Contrast is aided by powerful blacks that manage to shy away from any crush. Delineation, be it in live action or CG is excellent, but the attempts to add a little too much via computer trickery does bring with it a couple of minor problems. Tight lines, such as steps, during camera movement can shimmer in the distance and the intricately woven traditional Chinese hats, when put against the green screen can also struggle to maintain their perfection.
It is hard to begrudge the image a couple of minor faltering moments given the manner it generally mixes complex live action detail, delineation and an organic colour palette with some grandstanding CG sleight of hand.
Point of note – subtitles appear within the frame and are above par but not perfect grammatically.
There are four tracks to choose from; Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Cantonese Dolby TrueHD 7.1, Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 and Mandarin Dolby TrueHD 7.1.
Four lossless tracks to choose from is certainly generous, but there is a slight problem in that it appears two of them are incomplete. Strangely, the Mandarin options actually miss out certain portions of dialogue that are off screen. It is never a truly pronounced oddity as it occurs only a handful of times and usually it is throwaway lines from extras in the background but it remains disconcerting to see subtitles flash up on screen and no ensuing sounds to be heard. Because of this, I focussed on the Cantonese tracks.
The centre can’t be faulted, it is clear and crisp yet retains an organic feel to voices and integrates seamlessly with the other channels – dialogue is full of warmth and the switch from hushed asides to raised voices is perfect. The fronts are robust and punchy, with a surprising amount of bass to them and they bring Peter Kam’s score to life with the richness such a composer’s work deserves. When mixed with the LFE the imperial drums rumble and the music swirls in unison.
With Detective Dee being chock full of fancy kung-fu and action set-pieces the rears get a nice workout, but it isn’t just when fists are flying that they are employed. Weather effects such as rain are almost tangible and the bubble and hiss from molten metal and fires is incisive with its pitching of high frequencies. Moments like the voice effects of the ventriloquist deer (don’t ask) bound around and permeate all channels in a well mixed layered style. You could perhaps nitpick that the LFE wasn’t as powerful during some hits or that there could have been more precise directionality in the fight sequences, but it would be splitting hairs regarding a pair of tracks that do almost everything required with great aplomb.
Making of – 480i – 18:37
Split into four segments and seemingly covering the overall story/production, costumes, stunts and the CG imagery, though I cannot vouch entirely for the accuracy of this as there are no English subtitles.
Slideshow – 1080p – 2:10
Film stills and production photos played to a slow composition.
Posters and Lobby Still - 1080p - 1:34
Another slideshow, this time of advertising material played to a more rousing number.
Trailer – 1080p – 2:25
Self explanatory, no English subtitles.
Teaser – 1080p – 1:34
Self explanatory, no English subtitles.
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is another string to the bow of Tsui Hark as he aims to reclaim his status as one of Hong Kong’s elite. More family friendly than his hard-edged best, it balances the mystical with the genre tones of a whodunit to great effect. Surprisingly the action, choreographed by Sammo Hung, proves something of a let down as the multiple shots incorporating CG effects and slow motion seem more like a box of tricks he felt required to (over) use, than tools he is adept at utilising.
The Region A locked disc from Vicol Entertainment has fine visuals that catch their toes a few times in the pursuit of excellence. The four lossless tracks offer enough options for all consumers, even if there is a caveat attached to the Mandarin options. Extras are perfunctory, and without English subtitles hard to truly judge, but there are some nice behind-the-scenes shots to be found within.
It isn’t a classic, but for fans of the particular brand of Eastern cinema that weaves folk-heroes into somewhat magical fiction, this fast paced action adventure has ample charm to suggest the already announced sequel should have a solid, but improvable, base to launch from.
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