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Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Fantasia review – Vampire Cleanup Department

My notes on the Chinese hopping vampire comedy, screening at the Fantasia International Film Festival.

Whereas Rigor Mortis was a surprisingly serious reworking of the Chinese ‘hopping vampire’ movies (Mr Vampire, etc), the amiable if unambitious comedy-horror-romance Gao geung jing dou fu (Vampire Cleanup Department) is closer to the Carry On Jiangshi mode of the ‘80s films.  It’s full of guest shots from veterans (Eric Tsang, Lo Mang, Susan Siu Yam-Yam) which means a certain distraction for non-cognoscenti as walk-on cops or bystanders almost seem to pause for recognition applause before getting on with their minimal business – but concentrates on its younger performers, and indeed works harder on a weird romance angle than any horror or action.

 

Tim (Babyjohn Choi), a socially inept young man, blunders into a fight between his ‘uncles’ Chau and Chung (Chin Siu-Ho, Richard Ng, returning from Rigor Mortis) and a vampire, and gets bitten on the ass – but turns out to be immune to the vampire venom.  His relatives explain that, in something of a parallel to the origin of Blade, Tim’s parents were vampire hunters who died in battle, though his mother survived being bitten long enough to give birth to him, and he has therefore inherited an immunity to vampirism.  The VCD – there are jokes about people calling it the DVD or Blu-Ray – is an amusingly low-rent Men in Black set-up, whereby Hong Kong’s anti-monster outfit are basically street-cleaners in high-vis jackets with stakes hidden in their brooms.  Two vampires are revived to keep the plot boiling – a big bad type who gets surprisingly little screen time until the finale and a mud-caked lady in the lake (Lin Min-chen) who spruces up into a doll-like mute (she seems to communicate via a mobile phone’s Her-like AI) Tim can’t bring himself to incinerate with all the other trash.  He calls the vampire girl Summer and tries to train her in walking rather than hopping and lowering her arms to her sides.  His new comrades all want him to burn the monster,but he insists that she’s a rare, redeemable type of vampire.  Of course, the real monster turns up to be a threat … and Summer becomes more human, and helps fight against her master.

 

Mr Vampire had a period setting – though many of the follow-ups were set in contemporary Hong Kong – and relied on stuntwork as much as wild imagination and charm, but this is a scrappier, less deft essay in the form, taking its tone from the proletarian vampire-killers of the VCD.  A lot of the old conventions – prayer parchments stuck to foreheads to immobilise the hoppers, etc – are revived, down the the casting of vampire-busting veteran Yuen Cheung-Yan as the VCD’s resident Taoist Master Ginger and there’s still a sense that the unquiet dead are childish rather than really dangerous, and used for pathos or low comedy as much as horror.  It’s a bit of a shambles when it comes to combining all its elements, and Choi’s nerd hero is slightly creepy – it seems likely he warms to Summer because she’s not quite a real girl.  Lin, a Malaysian pop idol and Instagram sensation famous for her nice smile (it’s a missed opportunity that they didn’t stick cute Hammer Films fangs in it), is appealing though – transformed mid-film from her antique look with a makeover and a hairdo.  Directed by Chiu Sin-Hang and Yan Pak-Wing.

It has also screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Here’s a trailer.

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