Burning High-Action Brilliance: Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Note: While I’m enjoying Wiscon this weekend (con report forthcoming), check out my latest review over at Tor.com. Delayed updates to Con Extravaganza & Asian Identities, Crossing Borders will be posted later this week.

During the Tribeca Film Festival, I managed to catch a showing of Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. Watching the preview, this film promised big set pieces, lots of fiery explosions, and awesome martial arts action. A film that has Chinese alternate history and features a detective worthy of Sherlock, a black market underground beneath the Forbidden City, and a plot involving the mechanics of building a 800-foot tall Buddha—it all sounds pretty steampunk-esque. When a post about it went up on Tor.com Steampunk, people scratched their heads about whether it would qualify, or if, yet again, a fad word had been plopped in by marketing.

I think it’s steampunk in the way James Ng’s art is, the way Shweta Narayan’s “Eyes of the Craven Emerald” is, the way that Yakoub Islam plans to write a Muslim steampunk story set in the twelfth century, and the way that Aether Age plays with the concept of highly industrialized ancient civilizations. So for any nay-sayers who are not calling this steampunk, then I suppose these don’t qualify either. But examining how technology can—and has—developed independently from Western influence is an idea that shouldn’t mark something as not being steampunk.

But enough squabbling about labels, because in the end, this is one kick-ass entertaining film in its own right.

Read the rest over at Tor.com.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Burning High-Action Brilliance: Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

  1. Jen

    You had me at spontaneous combustion. Now where can I go see this.

  2. I’ve found more steampunkish elements in japan/chinese storylines and at a higher quality production level than most western pedestrian swill directly labeled as Steampunk. I feel it’s much more imaginative if the label was not in mind while creating the work. That’s my two cents. I’ll look for this one when it hits shelves.