SIFF 2017: Vampire Cleanup Department (Yan Pak-wing & Chiu Sin-hang, 2017)

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In loving homage to classic 1980s Hong Kong vampire films like Sammo Hung’s Encounters of the Spooky Kind, The Dead and the Deadly and the Mr. Vampire series, first-time directors Yan and Chiu have built an effects heavy update of the old lore: the vampires still hop and are still immobilized by Taoist amulets (pieces of yellow paper with magic characters written on them) but they also vaporize when stabbed by wooden swords. Babyjohn Choi plays a young man who joins the eponymous department led by none other than comedy legend Richard Ng, Chin Siu-ho (one of the students in the original Mr. Vampire) and Yeun Cheung-yan (one of Yuen Woo-ping’s younger brothers). But rather than merely update the old formula with new effects, along the lines of last year’s Ghostbusters remake, the film instead becomes a cute romance, as Babyjohn accidentally turns a pretty vampire girl almost human. Lin Min-chen, a Malaysian actress whose previous credits amount to eleven episodes of the Taiwanese TV series Prince of Wolf and being a “Instagram sensation. . . known for her angelic face and killer body”, plays the vampire girl in a performance that owes at least a little bit to Bae Doona’s work in Kore-eda Hirokazu’s Air Doll. She can’t talk, or walk, or go out in the sunlight, but she’s got big eyes. The romance such as it is, is the nicest thing in the film, and there are some other funny moments, but despite the local pedigree in genre and in the veteran talent on-screen feels weirdly unrooted, like so many Hong Kong films trying to appeal to audiences outside the (former) colony. There’s a training montage joke, but rather than reference local films, it calls back to Rocky and The Karate Kid. There’s a subplot about a rival government organization, but it’s totally undeveloped, perhaps because of the political implications of a local group being forced to submit to the rigid amoral hierarchy of a bureaucratic power. So rather than make something specific, Yan and Chiu opt for the blandly general. Those 80s films, especially Sammo Hung’s, had a real misanthropic bleakness to them, a sense of horror as much existential as violent. There’s none of that here, only cuteness.

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SIFF 2017: Week Two Preview

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Eight days into the festival and the SIFF is beginning to pick up steam, ready to plow through unheard of 80 degree weather this Memorial Day weekend and on into June. Here are some of the movies we’re looking forward to this week, May 26-June 1.

God of War – Sammo Hung and Vincent Zhao vs. Pirates. I should not need to say more.

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World – Documentary on the contributions of Native Ameircans like Link Wray, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Robbie Robertson to popular music.

Chronicles of Hari – Indian film about an actor who specializes in female roles on stage. Jhon reviewed it for us here.

Girl without Hands – French animated adaptation of a Grimm Brothers tale about a girl who, well, loses her hands, trying to escape from the Devil.

Finding Kukan – Doc about the search for the woman who may have been the primary creative force behind, a documentary on World War II China that won an Academy Award in 1941. Melissa reviewed it for us here.

The Little Hours – Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie and Kate Micucci as a gang of foul-mouthed nuns. I should not need to say more.

The Marseille Trilogy – As they did two years ago with Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, SIFF presents new restorations of three classic films on three consecutive days. This time it’s Marcel Pagnol’s early 1930s French series following the complicated lives of Marius and Fanny, two shopkeepers in love who can’t seem to end up together.

Godspeed – Taiwanese direct Chung Mong-hong’s blackly comic thriller about a taxi driver and a drug courier stars Hong Kong legend Michael Hui, in a performance that earned him several Best Actor nominations throughout Asia.

By the Time it Gets Dark – Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong’s mysterious exploration of the fracturing effects of the 1976 Thammasat University massacre. Evan reviewed it for us here.

The Ornithologist – Portuguese director João Pedro Rodrigues’s oddball quest film starts as the story of a man lost in the woods and somehow becomes an adaptation of the story of St. Anthony. Along the way he’s tricked by Chinese backpackers, falls in love with a young man named Jesus and stumbles across a primitive tribe of demons.