Rigor Mortis

2013 was a year that utterly sucked on pretty much every level for me.  And indirectly this movie fairly well summed up what a pathetic year it was – I had a comp ticket to go see it on behalf of Easternkicks – as I managed to turn up a week late!!  However, it has now turned up on a lovely looking DVD from those good people at Yesasia.com, and out favourite blogging buddy Miyuki from the always entertaining Litterbox suggested we do this one together.  Never one to turn down the chance to do one of these joint reviews, I leapt at the chance.  And for those of you that haven’t been here before what happens is that Miyuki and I watch the film and do our reviews in our own indomitable styles.  Then we put in our comments on each other’s review.  So this means you get two reviews, from different perspectives, but with the others input!  Confused?  Don’t be.  Trust us.  Miyuki will be writing in purple.  I’ll stick to black!  So, How did it turn out?  Let me welcome Miyuki, and delve right in! (Oh and if you want to see things from the other side of the mirror universe, click here)

Hi all! So nice to get the chance to be the first to “share space” here at your new digs. It’s almost like this particular film knew we needed another collaboration… and something “not Korean:” for a change!! 🙂

rigor-mortis-posterIn “Rigor Mortis” washed up actor Chin Siu-hou (Chin Siu-hou, see what they did there?) checks into a rundown apartment complex, with the express intention of ending his life.  Seems even that simple task is beyond him, as he seems to be immediately be possessed by something, leading to the entrance of ex-Vampire Hunter/Noodle Shop owner Yau (Anthony Chan), who saves both his life and frees him from the possession.  Not entirely happy with this turn of events, Chin starts to encounter some other inhabitants: such as seamstress Mui (Paw Hee-Ching) and her gruff Husband Tung (Richard Ng); A mysterious woman called Feng (Kara Hui) and her white haired son; and the local priest Gau (Chung Fatt) who seems to not only be at odds with Yau, but has some dark secrets going on.  When Tung is mysteriously killed, Mui requests the help of Gau to bring her husband back to life.  This of course simply cannot go well, and all the various stories interact to reach a noisy, bloody and not too happy ending.

Yep. Not a happy face in the crowd by the end of this one… Juno definitely sets a bleak moral to his story about the dangers of messing with those “things Man was not meant to know”. In a way it, for me anyways, loses a little of the charm of the old films by being so dark. I’m not saying it needed to be all slapstick like those were, but I’d have like to see some lighter bits to make Chin Sui-hou seem more as if his decision to rouse himself to the challenge of dealing with the vampire was something he might survive… even if it turns out he doesn’t. I’m thinking that could have made his ultimate fate a bit more poignant. Heck… there isn’t even a survivor to remember his efforts. Kind of a bummer really….

What a mixed set of feelings I have watching this.  First time director Juno Mak has set out to both pay homage to those old time comedy horror films of the recent past like “Mr Vampire”, but also try and reinvent them for the modern era.  So what we get is a really great looking film that drips with menace and has serious amounts of creepy goings on and violence.  On the other hand, Mak really goes with the slow burn here, and the first hour of the film is little more than setup for the big finale, which doesn’t always make for an interesting watch.  Also, in modernising proceedings, he has also decided for the most part, strip all the fun away (although Anthony Chan is always entertaining).  On the other hand, he does a great job of really making the Vampire a genuine and scary threat.

Definitely. My sweetie had seen a couple of the older films with me, and when I got all excited and told her we had this one to watch, I think she first thought “Oh no… not those silly bouncing zombies again…”. This one was a surprise for her and she ended up re-evaluating the menace of the “Hopping Vampire”. Other Western viewers should be surprised too as well, I’m thinking. This one is portrayed as one serious threat indeed.

The film is not without heart, as the central love story between the elderly couple is both delightful and heart-breaking.  Mak also manages to play with our preconceptions by not making Feng and her son to quite be what they appeared to be in the first place.  Most importantly, the film is really successful on providing a meta-textual telling of the real life story of Chin Siu-hou, an actor who really struggled after initial great success.  Mak also smartly populates the film not only with Chin, but others who have made their name in the “Mr Vampire” series.  It really is clever stuff.

Yes, It was great to see all those old actors again. A shame the late great Lam Ching Ying couldn’t be a part of this too… Jiangshi films aren’t the same without him.

Which does remind me… in a touch of class, the film is dedicated to both Lam Ching Ying and Ricky Hui, stars of the original movie who have sadly passed away.

My real problem of the film, other than that slow burn, is actually how crowded and cramped it is.  Mak attempts to bring in not only the Vampire, but also the ghosts of two twin girls.  And some other bits and pieces as well.  The issue for me is that whilst there is an attempt to bring most of these together, the narrative gets really confusing and cramped.  This means that some interesting things like Chin’s non-believing, or his potential philosophical conflict with Yau are not given the screen time they actually deserve.  I think I even know where to place the blame – the film is co-produced by Takashi Shimizu, whose “Ju-on” series of films suffer for me the exact same curse, a bunch of effective set-pieces that fail to be tied together with an effective story.

I actually didn’t hate the first “Ju-on” film. Where it failed for me was with the endless sequels retelling the same story over and over. Something Shimizu isn’t the only Japanese director to be guilty of. Oh yes… the pacing is far too slow here for certain. In Japanese horror that works to build suspense, but Chinese horror always seems to work best when it’s tearing along so fast you just don’t get to think about the absurdity of it all.

The final battle personally I found to be utterly confusing.  I have no idea to be honest what was going on at all.  This might be because I am not au fait with the mythology on display here, so whilst I can’t say it isn’t exciting and full of interesting stuff, it didn’t jive awfully well with what had gone before.

There was a little of the old folklore on hand… including the notion that holding your breath makes you invisible to the jiangshi for as long as you can mange it… but most of the other stuff was done I think with a feeling that the audience… presumably a Chinese one… would know all the Taoist stuff and not need to have it explained. Personally I missed seeing them use the sticky rice, the “garlic” of jiangshi lore, in combat, something the old films did with an amazing degree of cleverness.

It was another thing that disappointed me.  There was a lovely exchange about Vampire Hunters being friends with Restaurateurs, in order to have a ready supply of sticky rice.  But it went nowhere.

And then there is the other ending.  Which I hated.  I know what it was trying to say.  But simply doesn’t hang together thematically with what went before, and to be honest compared with the good work on re-invention done for most of the movie, felt a little cliché, and as the young people say…. “meh”.

Ahhhh…. the ending. Yep… I hated that, even if it does provide a nice “frame” for the whole movie and a counterpoint to the beginning sequence. Included maybe as a bone thrown to the censors in HK still wanting to limit the whole supernatural elements of Hong Kong film under Beijing’s cultural film censorship rules? Who knows? To me it felt like a cop out.

What I will say is that this is one darn good looking movie, and Mak certainly has the chops to bring atmosphere, and even the far too few moments of character work show promise.  Whilst I was far from blown away by the film, I do suspect what we have here is the potential emergence of a real talent behind the lens, even more so as he has so far operated outside the stifling confines of mainland investment.  I will give it a mildly recommended, mostly because of the care and meta-textual elements rather than it being a wholly successful movie.

Yes definitely. I’ll be very interested to see Juno grow as he gets comfortable in the director’s chair. There’s talent there indeed, a little rough around the edges, but showing nice promise for future if he keeps at it.

Well… that looks like it. And it seems we pretty much agree on this one overall. It’s been fun as always, and I’ll be looking forward to us giving it yet another go once “Mỹ Nhân Kế 3D” gets released later this month. Vietnamese swordplay…. also soooo “not Korean”. 😉

Yes, I am looking forward to that one very much, even though it will probably coincide with my review of the film over at Easternkicks.  But three reviews are better than none right?  So I’ll do the old “meow meow for now” line.  Thanks again for joining Gweiloramblings… it was fun Smile

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