HKAFF: Rigor Mortis 殭屍 (2013) – Hong Kong

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 28th October 2013

Director: Juno Mak
Producers: Takashi Shimizu, Juno Mak
Starring: Chin Siu-ho, Nina Paw Hee-ching, Anthony Chan, Kara Wai, Richard Ng, Chung Fat

In cinemas Hong Kong from 26th October 2013

Reviewed at 10th Hong Kong Asian Film Festival 2013

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I am not sure if actor turned director Juno Mak is a good director, but one thing is certain, he loves 80s vampire movies and perhaps Hong Kong cinema as well. “Rigor Mortis” is by no means an accomplish piece of work, but it is alternatively interesting and by the end of the film, Mr. Mak can probably walk away with his head held intact. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, as the film contains plenty of flaws, a slow burn beginning before a crescendo of events that almost climaxed too early, before a frustrating and formulaic finale that hardly make any sense whatsoever. For a debutant directing flick, there are glimpses of potential and aided by an excellent turn by veteran Nina Paw Hee-ching. There are both fun and haunting moments and even some gory scenes, but Juno Mak tends to lack focus and the result is really a mixed bag.

The much missed Chin Siu-Ho headlines in the leading role and providing a double irony, Chin have not starred as a lead for a good decade or more. I still fondly remember his numerous fights with Jet Li (“Tai Chi Master” and “Fist of Legend”) during his heydays and then of course there for his string of “Mr. Vampires” movies. Chin Siu-Ho has matured since those wild days of the 80s and 90s and is steadfast as an actor past his prime, roaming into a public housing full of weird events. What I liked about “Rigor Mortis” is that Juno is willing to pay homage to many of Hong Kong’s hidden treasures. Veteran comedian Richard Ng also makes an appearance as the title new age Vampire. With adequate makeup, Ng actually looks the most scary he has ever been in his distinguished comedy driven career. Kara Hui is wonderful as a mother who is haunted by her impending past experiences.

The problem with “Rigor Mortis”, despite the good production values, eerie setting and spot-on haunting looks within the old public housing and even manages to contain some good acting chops from its experienced cast. The film lacks a focus, it never decides to go further on a single material or genre, while crossing between horrors, comedy, gore and thrills. Surely there are moments of gore and in particular the toilet scene where the child is torn apart by the aging vampire. It could have been a scene of cinematic magic, but instead all we get is Nina Paw Hee-ching standing outside providing the audience with plenty of imagination. In terms of horror, the film largely fails, as it rarely scary and the two girl ghosts seem more comical than frightening. Another issue is that all of the characters on display lack depth and the result is that the audience hardly cared about their existence and instead is probably more interested in witnessing their manner of death.

All in all, “Rigor Mortis” is not a bad movie and is probably heads and shoulders above anything Hong Kong has been able to come up with in this particular genre. However, with co-producer Takashi Shimizu (“The Grudge”) working closely with newcomer director Juno Mak at the helm, one expected more than just a few scenes of thrills and a good looking film. There are a lot of potential in this film that could have made it far more effective and even a haunting and memorable experience. Instead, Juno prefers to tone down on most situations and the result is a movie that is really a mixed bag of missed opportunities. Still, for someone who has shown zero talent in the entertainment industry for almost a decade or more, Juno Mak finally did something worthy and while “Rigor Mortis” doesn’t entirely succeeds; it is really not that bad either. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 6.5/10

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