Film4: PREMIERE Friday 2 October, 10.50pm
Mark Chao stars in a Detective Dee prequel set some years before Andy Lau licked the Mystery of the Phantom Flame in Tsui Hark’s 2010 hit. A beautifully designed Tang dynasty adventure balanced between delirium and danger, it was the visual treat Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes wanted to be. This one engages the eye, too, but not the mind. Back in AD 665, Chao’s Dee is a Bing County bailiff jailed for reporting corruption among his superiors.
An official embarrassment, he’s assigned to the Da Lisi (justice department), which has 10 days to solve the riddle of Empress Wu’s sunken battleships. Rumours of a sea behemoth disturb the Luoyang populace, but the truth would freak them out completely: Dondo islanders plan to seize the mainland and rule for a thousand years.
Angelababy is the courtesan kidnapped by a swamp thing in a Beauty and the Beast tale with CGI up the Yangtze. Extravagant comic book flourishes overwhelm a gimmicky adventure which lacks Phantom Flame’s charm. Most of the crazily choreographed action is rendered even more absurd by an abundance of wire work. And there’s an underwater horse stunt that would be unfeasible in a cartoon.