ON IN CINEMAS
EIFF 2017: Vampire Cleanup Department (2017)
Babyjohn Choi plays Tim, a rather clumsy young man who gets attacked by vampires in a Hong Kong back alley and ends up falling unconscious after being bitten on his rear end. When he comes round, he finds that he is being tended by an organisation called the Vampire Cleanup Department who, as the name suggests, deal with the city’s bloodsucker problem. The group’s eldest member, Uncle Chung (Richard Ng), is amazed to find that this youngster hasn’t become infected from the bite - a happy side effect resulting from his mother being bitten just before he was born.
The group decide his unique abilities could be useful, and welcome him to the fold. However, trouble is just around the corner as the “blood moon” is rising that night, thus awakening a whole horde of the nighttime-dwelling creatures. During his first mission, Tim is pulled into a lake by a wizened female vampire, who then proceeds to kiss him. This act produces yet another extraordinary side effect, as this aging female vampire regains her youth. Tim - who has clearly fallen in love with her younger form (played by Min Chen Lin) -manages to persuade the others not to kill her (via cremation), and decides to take her in. Christening her “Summer”, he sets about trying to teach her to fit in with normal society, with hilarious consequences.
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Vampire Cleanup Department is clearly a homage to those old Hong Kong vampire kung fu comedies such as Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980) and Mr. Vampire (1985), right down to using the same mythology (the vampires hop around, and can be halted by sticking pieces of paper with written incantations on their foreheads). It also cribs a few ideas from Ghostbusters and Buffy the Vampire Slayer for good measure. It’s affectionate and solidly-crafted, with an atmospheric but pleasingly colourful visual style that harkens back to HK movies from the 1980s period, but with the addition of some modern CGI vampire staking effects, and a few references to Skype, Siri and so on. The arty opening and closing credit graphics are also fabulously imaginative.
As fun as it is, however, Vampire Cleanup Department is rather slight, and far more of a charming joke than a particularly great movie. The scenes between Babyjohn Choi as Tim and Min Chen Lin as Summer are where most of the film’s attention lies, and they are indeed amusing and sweet. The moments where Tim talks to Summer, only for the Siri-style personal assistant on her phone to respond to him, are particularly funny. The rest of the cast is generally likeable, especially Hong Kong veteran Richard Ng. However, if you come in expecting much in the way of kung fu and gore, you will be disappointed (although the film’s early moments do make it seem like it might be heading in that direction). In fact, on the whole, it never really builds up to become the grand affair that it could have been.
Vampire Cleanup Department is still fun, albeit more as a semi-romantic comedy vampire homage than the kind of grand martial arts adventure Hong Kong was pumping out at an incredible rate during its heyday.
Runtime: 93 mins
Dir: Sin-Hang Chiu
Script: Sin-Hang Chiu
Starring: Siu-Ho Chin, Hok-chi Chiu, Babyjohn Choi, Min Chen Lin, Meng Lo, Richard Ng, Cheung-Yan Yuen