Starring : Chin Siu Ho, Kara Wai, Nina Paw, Anthony Chan and Lo Hoi Pang
Director : Juno Mak
Release Date : 24 Oct 2013
Hong Kong pop star Juno Mak’s directorial debut Rigor Mortis is a visually stunning horror flick.
Hong Kong pop stars making the transition to directing feature films are not exactly a novel phenomenon these days. But when something this spectacular comes along, one has to sit up and take notice.
Conceived by pop star writer-director Juno Mak as a tribute to the geung si (aka Chinese hopping vampires) genre made immensely popular by the Mr Vampire films from the 1980s, Rigor Mortis has turned out to be one hell of a directing debut for him. It is also one of the year’s most pleasant cinematic surprises for this writer.
Cleverly stripping the film of much of the humour that made Mr Vampire such a beloved franchise, Mak has bravely blazed his own trail by making a film full of eerie atmosphere and melancholic sadness with the added bonus of beautiful and highly aestheticized violence that borders on the avant-garde at some points in the film.
If Tarsem Singh (the highly regarded director of The Fall, The Cell and Mirror Mirror) were to direct a geung si film, it will probably turn out something like this.
Reuniting a large number of the cast of the Mr Vampire films, Chin Siu-Ho plays a washed-up actor also named Chin who moves into apartment 2442 at a dilapidated public housing estate populated by lots of superstitious old people.
Haunted by a dark past involving his son and wife (which we unfortunately never get to find out due to two small but highly disruptive cuts by the censors), Chin attempts suicide, only to be possessed by the ghost of a girl who hung herself in the same apartment.
Coming to his rescue is vampire hunter Yau (Anthony Chan). As Chin finds his way around the housing estate, we’re also introduced to the film’s other characters like Feng (Kara Wai) and her son Pak, the building’s caretaker Uncle Pang (Lo Hoi Pang), loving couple Auntie Mui (Nina Paw) and Uncle Tung (Richard Ng), and the mysterious Uncle Gau (Chung Fat) who seems to be dabbling in black magic.
The story and plot is given to us in piecemeal fashion, so the film’s first 15 to 20 minutes will test the viewer’s patience as we witness one strange occurrence after another without much explanation.
If you are more familiar with Hollywood horror flicks and unfamiliar with Asian, particularly Chinese folklore about ghosts and vampires, you will probably find some of the plots a stretch.
Thankfully, there are arresting visuals to keep viewers’ interested. If you are patient enough, then you will be handsomely rewarded as the film gradually reels us into its tragic and emotionally-affecting story.
Even more impressive is how the film manages to establish (or re-establish) the origins of the Chinese hopping vampire legend by incorporating these villains into a storyline that involves a heartbreaking true love as Auntie Mui refuses to let go of Uncle Tung and enlists the help of Uncle Gau to “bring him back” using black magic.
As we lay witness to the trail of bloody carnage left by the vampire, we can’t help but identify with Auntie Mui’s decision. It is in this scene which involves a mix of melodrama and violence (between the vampire, the vampire hunter and Chin) that Mak truly proves his talent and mettle as a classy director.