A glorious Chinese epic adventure

A blind sage. A talking deer. A towering Buddha. An underground city. Fire beetles, sleeping smoke, a nose-twitching Donkey Wang (yes, Donkey Wang - but don't touch his acupoints!) . . . Is it possible for Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame to be any more riotously over-the-top than it is?

I think not.

Li Bingbing plays an aide to the seventh-century Empress, check-ing up on our hero Detective Dee.

Set in seventh- century China, under the fractious rule of the first female emperor (a suitably regal Carina Lau), moviemaking madman Tsui Hark's epic fantasy adventure follows the titular hero (Andy Lau) as he endeavors to solve the immolation of various high-powered officials. One minute they're walking and talking, the next they're ablaze - toasted to a crisp.

Full of royal intrigue and subterfuge, with set pieces of astoundingly choreographed fights - the topper happens in a garden of stone statuary, as our hero, armed with a magic sword, battles a mob of antlered deer - Detective Dee boasts glorious visual effects and digitally rendered vistas. It makes Hollywood's recent summer spectacles look shoddy by comparison.

The stunning Li Bingbing is onboard, too, playing an aide to the Empress and assigned the task of dogging the good Detective - making sure he's on the up-and-up and not part of a plot to usurp the throne. After all, there are conspirators going around saying stuff like "to achieve greatness, everyone is expendable."

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame isn't deep stuff, but it's great stuff - eye-poppingly magical and majestic.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/.


Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (Di Renjie)

Directed by Hark Tsui. With Lu Yao, Carina Lau, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Andy Lau, Jean-Michel Casanova, Bingbing Li. Distributed by Indomina Media.

Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (for violence, disturbing images and some sexuality).