‘Detective Chinatown’ pays homage to the mystery genre

Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-15 0:12:27

Promotional material for Detective Chinatown Photo: CFP

What is fuzzy lattice reasoning? What kind of building is a memory palace? -  Questions like these are frequently seen in movie reviews of the recent Detective Chinatown - a comedy that has become the perfect excuse for people to show off how smart they are.

The latest work from director and actor Chen Sicheng, Detective Chinatown has earned 680 million yuan ($103 million) since it premiered on December 31. Meanwhile, Sherlock: The Adominable Bride, a special episode of BBC's Sherlock series being shown in cinemas in China, has earned 180 million yuan at the box office since hitting theaters on January 4. It seems that movie audiences are in the mood for a little mystery.

For many mystery fans, the moment a movie ends is when their own party starts. Going home they start to post articles deciphering the film, discussing the different styles used and trying to unravel all the hidden secrets scattered throughout. This post-movie homework helps increase the shelf life of a film and make it more enjoyable.  

Understanding the hearts of fans, Detective Chinatown is scattered withhomages to classic mystery stories, from the Sherlock Holmes series and Keigo Higashino's Journey Under the Midnight Sun to the works of twenty-something author Yuugo Aosaki. Some moviegoers have even pointed out that the nephew-uncle dynamic used in the film is similar to the setup used in the Japanese manga Detective Conan.

These Easter eggs are not very obvious nor easily understood, but mystery fans understand them in seconds. For example, when the main character Qin Feng arrives in Thailand, he doesn't want to head straight to the palace but only wants to see the "Siamese Twins," a callback to Ellery Queen's mystery novel The Siamese Twin Mystery. In Queen's novels, clues are placed throughout the story before the case is finally solved - a challenge to readers to see if they can deduce who the culprit was before they reach the end. Clues are also scattered throughout Detective Chinatown as a challenge to the audience.

Other classic elements like a locked chamber mystery are also included in the film.

Finally a movie has come out for mystery fans. Instead of featuring an omniscient detective that knows everything, it invites audiences to figure out the clues alongside the main characters.

Sherlock, both the TV series and the special episode still in cinemas, is peppered with quick dialogue containing a lot of information that even native English speakers may have a hard time keeping up with. But mystery fans are delighted by the challenge to try and keep up with Benedict Cumberbatch as he speaks his lines with a cool poker face.

Mystery films aren't the only thing to be in vogue lately. Articles recommending mystery novels or introducing different types of detective novels are also hot on social media right now. The classic works of Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr and Ellery Queen are being recommended to the public in order to bring more new fans into the mystery fold.

Although many older mystery fans like to say that you have to read at least 150 mystery novels to be a true expert, all fans really have to do is appreciate the particular elements that make up the genre. 

With respect paid to these elements, a movie, even if it is presented in a clumsy and funny way, can be still a good entry into the genre, just like Detective Chinatown.

Global Times - Wen Wei Po

Newspaper headline: Calling on the classics

Posted in: Film

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