Far East Film Festival 20

Udine Italy April 20th/ April 28th 2018
The Film Festival For Popular Asian Cinema
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
Saturday, April 22, time 00.25 AM


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Vampire Cleanup Department

Old-school hopping vampire silliness makes a fresh return to Hong Kong cinema with Vampire Cleanup Department, a bizarre horror-comedy-romance mashup from first-time feature directors Yan Pak-wing and Chiu Sin-hang. The titular government department is introduced on the job in a shopping mall basement, where seniors Chau (Chin Siu-ho) and Uncle Chung (Richard Ng) set about vampire slaying while newbie Tim Cheung (Babyjohn Choi) is stuck outside trying to explain his way past a cop. When the story jumps back in time, it turns out Cheung was destined to be part of the secretive agency: his late parents were in its staff and his mum was bitten by a vampire just before his birth, making Cheung grow up immune.

After a back-alley run-in with a vampire, Cheung is set up by his granny (Susan Shaw) to visit Area VCD, the department’s underground HQ, morgue and crematorium hidden beneath a garbage collection station. Cheung’s immunity to vampire bites is an obvious plus and he’s recruited to join the elite squad – all disguised as rubbish collectors and part of the government’s long-running fight against vampires. Things go even more off-kilter for the young man on his first mission when he comes across a rare “human vampire” (Lin Min-chen), then secretly saves her and takes her to his home. And making things worse for the department is the arrival of a blood moon, which could bring deeper trouble from the undead.

Vampire Cleanup Department hit theatres as the latest effort to revive the hopping vampire sub-genre. Chinese vampires (jiangshi) hit big in the 1980s and early ‘90s with works like the Mr Vampire horror-comedy series before a lull of about two decades. Rigor Mortis in 2013 delivered hopping vampire madness, only with little humour, and the trashy Sifu vs Vampire (2014) brought back the comic side with limited success. For their part, Yan Pak-wing and Chiu Sin-hang go for laughs and nostalgia as they pair hopping vampire cinema style with touches of romance.
Throwbacks are a big part of the attraction. Action scenes come with extensive use of traditional wirework for martial arts and flying objects, and veteran actors Richard Ng, Chin Siu-ho, Yuen Cheung-yan and Lo Meng are given distinctive roles in the agency. Vampire prosthetics recall those of past classics and show attention to detail, and even the art direction at the underground office and Tim’s home presents a distinctly old Hong Kong look. Scenes of vampire busting have genre staples such as special swords and Taoist paper spells, but light-hearted updates are thrown in too, like a fun running gag with a swallowed smartphone and its Siri-like voice assistant.

To be sure, Vampire Cleanup Department’s background as low-budget work from new directors can show through. An early day-for-night scene in the countryside sees the picture quality plummet, and continuity flubs crop up from time to time. But Yan and Chiu still manage to entertain in offbeat ways, from dodgy attempts to digitise amulets to having a vampire spot blood curd at an eatery. Even the budding affection between Cheung and his vampire partner somehow clicks, thanks to enthusiastic performances by stars Babyjohn Choi and Malaysian Lin Min-chen. While it may lack the technical polish of its sub-genre’s classics, Vampire Cleanup Department makes a noble effort to fire up hopping vampire fun for a new generation of moviegoers.
Tim Youngs
Film director: 
Chiu Sin-hang, Yan Pak-wing
Running time: 




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