Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame 狄仁杰之通天帝国 (2010)
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (狄仁杰之通天帝国 Dí Rénjié zhī tōngtiān dìguó), is a 2010 epic mystery film that is a fictional account of Di Renjie (狄仁杰 Dí Rénjié), one of the most celebrated officials of the Tang Dynasty (唐朝 Tángcháo). A co-production between China and Hong Kong, the film was directed by Tsui Hark (徐克 Xú Kè) from a screenplay written by Chen Kuofu. The film is an adaptation of the book, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, authored by Lin Qianyu. The film stars Andy Lau (刘德华Liú Déhuá)as the lead role, and features art direction and fight choreography by Sammo Hung. The film's supporting cast includes Carina Lau, Li Bingbing, Deng Chao and Tony Leung Ka-fai. Principal photography for Detective Dee began in May 2009; the film was shot at Hengdian World Studios in Zhejiang, China. Detective Dee was released in China on 29 September 2010 and in Hong Kong on 30 September 2010. The film was nominated for the Golden Lion at the 2010 Venice Film Festival.The film also made its North America debut by premiering at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival.
When the mysterious deaths of a series of loyal subjects threaten to delay the AD 690 inauguration of Empress Wu Zetian, she summons the infamous Detective Dee back from an exile into which she cast him eight years earlier.
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phanton Flame is a co-production between Chinese production company Huayi Brothers (also the film's distributor) and production company Film Workshop. The film will be Film Workshop's 50th feature film as a producer. The film was directed by Tsui Hark, who co-produced the film with his wife Nansun Shi. The screenplay was written by Chen Kuofu, the Chinese screenwriter of the 2008 films Forever Enthralled and If You Are the One. Fight choreography and art direction for the film was handled by Sammo Hung.
Prior to filming Detective Dee, Tsui had spent years doing research on stories concerning Tang Dynasty official Di Renjie. Chen Kuofu first approached Tsui with a screenplay based on the life of Di Renjie.
Tsui first announced production plans in 2008, while promoting his previous film All About Women at the 13th Pusan International Film Festival. At the time, Tsui had pondered on whether to make Detective Dee or remake the 1966 film Dragon Gate Inn.
For the lead role as Di Renjie, Tsui originally had Tony Leung Ka-fai, along with Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in mind. Tsui commented on choosing an actor to play Di Renjie: "Who said that Di Ren Jie must be plump and old? He could also be very handsome. Wits and looks can balance one another."On 5 January 2009, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Andy Lau would star in the lead role.On 29 April 2009, it was announced that Carina Lau, Li Bingbing, Deng Chao and Tony Leung Ka-Fai would appear in supporting roles.
Andy Lau plays Di Renjie, an exiled detective of the Tang Dynasty. Lau felt that the character's psychic abilities was one of his greatest traits: "He is a forensic psychologist who knows what you're thinking, from your eyes, your breathing, the pauses in your speech, he could tell what you're withholding, a melancholic detective." To prepare for his role in the film, Lau studied criminal psychology."He was someone very special, one possessing nerdiness, good deportment and great foresight. His mentality and philosophies were very different from Sherlock Holmes or James Bond. He can dwell forever in my heart, so I have a very romantic view on him, and must also be immaculate."
—Director Tsui Hark on portraying Di Renjie.
Carina Lau plays Wu Zetian, the Tang Dynasty empress of China. The film marks Lau's first feature film role in four years. On her role in the film, she commented on the strength of the empress: "I feel that Wu Ze Tian is a 'superman', her fate is very tragic, but she would find opportunities to defy her fate, to bring her, step by step, closer to her dreams. She has very strong willpower and is very wise, unlike myself."Lau had to practice horse riding for the film, accepting help from a professional trainer: "I have always been rather afraid of horseriding, afraid of such a large animal; but now I have overcome the mental obstacle and the lessons have been rather smooth."
Li Bingbing plays Shangguan Jing'er, a highly skilled martial artist, who serves as Wu Zetian's maid and right-hand "man". The character is loosely based on Shangguan Wan'er, who was a poet, writer and politician of the Tang Dynasty. Director Tsui Hark decided to change the character, feeling that a more fictitious character would provide more room for creativity: "There're some things that Wan-er couldn't do, like being a top-notch martial arts expert."
Principal photography for Detective Dee began in May 2009, with a budget of $13 million;the film was shot in Zhejiang, China at Hengdian World Studios, which is one of the largest film studios in the world.Detective Dee has been described as one of Tsui's most personal films to date. During production, Tsui would reportedly work consistently on the set, barely getting enough sleep.
Sammo Hung served as an action director for the film and his stunt team built eight platforms (12 meters tall) in the cave for three days of wire work. The record was over 70 wires for one scene.One of the sculptures was a 80 metre bust of Empress Wu Zetian, a key element of the film that cost $12 million to design and decorate. During production, reporters were invited to enter the bust's interior, which included a 12 meter tall circular platform. Outside of the platform hung red and white drapes that were full of scriptures.
Detective Dee's martial arts sequences will be choreographed by Sammo Hung, who worked extensively alongside actors Andy Lau and Li Bingbing. Tsui choose Hung as a choreographer, feeling that his work had shades of Bruce Lee. Of the fight sequences for the film, Tsui commented that they would be similar to that of Ip Man, as they would aim for realism with actual punches and kicks. This would prove difficult for actors who had no martial arts experience.Of the two actors, Li Bingbing had no experience in martial arts, and her role required that she use various weapons in the film such as a whip and a sword.