Monday, August 14, 2017

Vampire Cleanup Department – review

Directors: Sin-Hang Chiu & Pak-Wing Yan

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

There have been some really interesting vampire films coming out of China over the last few years, though some are better than others of course. Vampire Cleanup Department is, despite itself to a degree, at the better end of the scale doing much right (as well as a little, if not wrong then a tad, flat).

The film takes place in Hong Kong and contains some familiar faces that fans of Chinese vampire cinema will recognise.

killing a vampire
We start with an elevator opening and a security guard stepping into a parking lot… something is wrong. He follows a trail of gore to a truck. The driver is dead, his neck chewed on. The guard calls for help and is grabbed. The incident is on the breaking news and the police are there. A truck drives into the garage and two men emerge, the younger is Chau (Siu-Ho Chin, Mr vampire, Rigor Mortis, Vampire Vs Vampire, Chinese Vampire Story, The Seventh Curse & Vampire Warriors) and the older is Uncle Chung (Richard Ng, also Rigor Mortis & Mr Vampire 3) who sports a bandaged head. Chung sweet talks a young policeman as Chau checks the bodies and then starts dispatching those rising as vampires. The two men are dressed as street cleaners and Chau's hi-vis vest serves as a prayer scroll and his broom has a wooden sword hidden in the handle. Outside a third member of the cleanup team, Tim (Babyjohn Choi), is stopped by the police and so he tells his story…

facing a kyonsi
Tim lives with his somewhat barmy grandmother, after his parents died when he was newborn. Grandma dresses hip, seems to be unable to remember that her son is dead and thinks Tim is he and, when we meet her, has claimed a cardboard box. There is an altercation with a scavenger and his granddaughter but Tim smooths things over. Grandma has lost something so he tries to find it and, instead, discovers the granddaughter crying. Her grandfather is being attacked in an alley (the assailant going for the neck). Tim looks to intervene, slips on an empty bottle and ends up having his rear end bitten.

Chau and Tim
He awakens in bed but when he gets in the kitchen Chung and Chau are there. Grandma leaves the room and Chau grabs Tim and checks his backside – there are fang marks but Chung points out that the boy is obviously immune to vampirism. They give him a card and leave. He goes to the address, enters a secret base through a cupboard and is introduced to the vampire cleanup department. I won’t go through the other members here as they are periphery characters at best. Suffice it to say that Tim is unconvinced at first, faces another vampire, is given his old home back and joins the team.

Summer rises from the water
His home was held by the VCD after his parents, both members of the Dept., were bitten. His dad self-incinerated as he turned, after asking Chau to watch out for his unborn child (hence Chau being reluctant when it comes to Tim joining). His mother died after giving birth and this has passed the immunity on to Tim. We get his training and then the first mission where a diver accidentally releases two vampires from their coffins, caught underwater by flooding, during a blood moon. Whilst Chung and Chau go after the male vampire, Tim is faced with the female, Summer (Min Chen Lin). She manages to bite him (and lose a fang) and then suck some energy that makes her young – and friendly. The squad are going to destroy her but Tim ends up hiding her at his home.

Summer and Tim
As well as the Summer storyline, there is the police after taking over the squad and the hunt for the primary vampire. The film lingers on the Summer story however and it becomes a source of gentle romantic comedy (the whole film leans towards the comedic). In many respects, she replaces the ghost character that might have come into a Chinese vampire flick in the past, but with the different dynamic of her being unable to talk. Some parts of this are interesting – her on a Segway to prevent the need to hop, learning to walk, and the fact that she turned having been locked alive in a coffin, as grave goods for the evil landowner who became the primary vampire, and this has left her with PTSD around confined spaces. However, it laboured somewhat and orientated the film too much towards the romantic.

the main vampire
The rest of the lore is mostly standard, using the Taoist principles of vampire hunting (indeed there is a Taoist priest (Cheung-Yan Yuen) in the team). They state that the main reasons for turning after death are due to injustice, it being a rainy day for the funeral or the burial place being gloomy. There is a theory amongst the police that vampirism is a virus and they do manage to develop a toxin that will kill them from Summer's lost tooth. However, the VCD do not like to kill on site, as it were, but capture and return to base so that a ritual can be performed to enable reincarnation before incineration. There are several types of kyonsi listed in a book held by the squad.

Richard Ng as Chung
The comedy around the training is gentle but fun, though (as mentioned) some of the comedy around Summer and Tim’s relationship is too laboured and that section became somewhat flat (though plot critical). That aside, the whole thing was good fun. There are incongruities such as the team being secret and yet having their name emblazoned on their vehicles… but hey, never mind. Fun despite the flaws with the vampire action lifting it up to 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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