Thursday, March 04, 2010

God of Vampires – review


Director: Rob Fitz

Release date: 2010

Contains spoilers

The problem with indie film-making can often be that the filmmakers can’t see the woods for the trees. How much more so could that have been with a film that the filmmaker started working on a massive ten years ago? The first thing I really should say is that God of Vampires maintains a purity of vision that belies that first statement. It is a gritty, grainy affair that is far from Hollywood perfect in many respects and yet I sat watching it with a big old smile on my face.

The next thing to note is that God of Vampires is a kyonsi (or Kiang-shi) movie. Now these are primarily, as we know, a product of Hong Kong cinema. In fact the other such movie that springs to mind, hailing from the US, is the Jitters - a particularly awful film. I can tell you at this stage that God of Vampires beats it on every level by a country mile.

Dharma Lin as Frank NgFrank Ng (Dharma Lin) is a hitman. His latest job has taken him to the lair of a Chinese crime boss (Bruce Harrington). He is ruthlessly efficient as he silently takes out the guards and, in a moment of neatly done comedy, manages to talk to a truancy officer (Barbara Crampton) about his brother Bobby (Clayton Huyne) as well as salesman. Ultimately the boss manages to take himself out, clumsily tripping over a body and discharging the shotgun he carried into himself.

Frank and Bobby’s parents are dead and Frank is the boy’s guardian. Of course he isn’t a conventional role model. Frank goes to the fixer (Pete O’Herne) a never seen paranoiac who pays him for the last job and passes him the details of the new one. It is simply the name of, and meeting place for, a contact.

He meets his new customer who offers him a million dollars gives him the vaguest of descriptions in respect of the target and then states that he wants the head as proof. Frank doesn’t even blink at the request but the price goes up by $200,000 for the beheading. He raids his new target's hideout, following the men who are taking a kidnapped girl to him and terminating any person in his path.

Facing the kyonsiThe target is a long haired gentleman with rather sharp nails (Shyaporn Theerakulstit). The girl pulls away a talisman from his wrist and he stabs her. Frank comes up behind him and puts a bullet in his head and two in his belly. He prizes the girls fingers open and takes the talisman, just as the man stands again. His skin now seems dead and he attacks Frank who just manages to get out of there alive.

the target wasn’t humanHe goes to the fixer, holds the talisman up to the hall camera and states that the target wasn’t human. The fixer will look into it and Frank says he’ll be in a better place – a bar down the road. One of his contacts comes in with some information (essentially the address of a Chinese restaurant) but with the disturbing news that the fixer is dead. As he leaves the contact looses his head, literally.

Ben Wang as Uncle PingThe kyonsi enters a better place and slaughters the customers, except for Frank. He proclaims himself as Frank’s God and tells him that he will cause Frank to suffer. Everyone he loves, everyone he knows, even those he casually brushes by in the street will die. Frank goes to the restaurant and meets the herbalist Uncle Ping (Ben Wang). It is down to them, the restaurant staff and a customer called Percy (Craig Ciampa), to stop the kyonsi.

the master removes their eyesRob Fitz did change kyonsi lore around quite a bit, but that’s okay given it seems to change from film to film anyway. The kyonsi we have met is the master and only he can make others. These are our blind kyonsi – hunting people’s breath – and are so because the master removes their eyes. He does this to make them subservient as the removal of the eyes rips away the part of the soul that resides there.

tongue attackThe turning process involves ritual magic – there is no bite and turn element to this. The master turns Bobby at one point and Frank finds him tied with a sackcloth over his head. When he removes it the boy vomits a liquid at him and then grabs him with a rather long tongue. This is entirely new lore and Uncle Ping actually states that he didn’t know they could do that.

the wrong loreThe restaurant guys certainly don’t know their Chinese vampire lore and create crosses and stakes. However we see the master staked to no avail and he suggests that beheading will only inconvenience him. To be killed they must have a Chinese death certificate placed on their head (and a really neat way of mass producing these is added in film) and then they must be dismembered by a blessed blade.

vampire lifestylersIn a rather nice scene – before their crash course in kyonsi lore – a pair of vampire lifestylers come into the restaurant. The waiters hold up a cross and the man (Brett Bergeron) licks it, in an exaggerated style. Thinking him to be a vampire he is held down and staked, much to the consternation of his date (Consey Beck). She doesn’t last long as an actual kyonsi chooses that moment to attack.

vampire huntersThe film is great fun. If I had to liken it to anything it would be along the lines of El Mariachi, not in content or style but in spirit, a low budget film the belies and surpasses its budget by having something rather special at its heart. The film does more right with its action sequences than many high budget cousins and there are buckets of blood – which in truth start a little pink in colour but improve as the film progresses. The grainy nature of the film (and it does appear to have been shot on film) actually lends a positive aspect to the movie.

trouble below the floorsThere are sound issues. The dialogue seemed very slightly out of whack, making it appeared dubbed. This may have been deliberate and, if it wasn’t, actually managed to work giving the film a dubbed Hong Kong film feel. More problematic was the fact that the dialogue was a little low in the mix next to the soundtrack. The soundtrack worked but dialogue could be lost a little – especially the head kyonsi’s dialogue given the fact that there were effects (it appeared) on the voice. Not enough to lower the score but noticeable enough to mention.

coming to getchaAs I mentioned, I watched this with a big old smile plastered on my face and that is the effect a film should have. 7 out of 10 for a labour of love that really paid off.

The imdb page is here and the homepage is here.


Sarah from Scare Sarah said...

Sounds pretty good, I'd like to see this one.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Keep an eye out, its worth it

Zahir Blue said...

Many thanks for pointing out what looks to be a little gem.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

no problem Zahir