'Vampire Cleanup Department': Film Review
Babyjohn Choi and a cast of industry veterans star in Yan Pak-wing and Chiu Sin-hang's old-school genre comedy.
In what may be an early contender for title of the year in Hong Kong, Vampire Cleanup Department, the first feature by directors Yan Pak-wing (who wrote Full Strike) and Chiu Sin-hang, brings back the hopping vampires. Essentially a supernatural romance, VCD is modest in its ambitions and gleeful in execution, and knows exactly what it is. The film shamelessly trades in nostalgia for both the singularly Chinese creature and the goofy horror comedies Hong Kong pumped out in the 1980s and early ’90s. Having already secured a slot on the Fantasia schedule, other genre festivals are sure to follow suit.
After finding himself at the center of a vampire attack in a dark alley one night, ordinary millennial type Tim Cheung (Babyjohn Choi) discovers a heretofore unknown pedigree and has a new destiny thrust upon him by his family. It turns out vampires have been lurking in Hong Kong’s shadows for centuries, and his parents were great vampire hunters. They were part of the secret, monster-busting Vampire Cleanup Department (think a low-grade Torchwood) working out of an run-down garbage depot. Tim’s uncle Chau (action director Chin Ka-lok’s brother, Chin Siu-ho), Chung (veteran Richard Ng) and Master Ginger (Yuen Cheung-yan, action choreographer Yuen Woo-ping’s brother) set about training their apprentice in the ways of vampire cleaning, but Tim gets distracted by Summer (Lin Min-chen), a rare “human type” vampire Tim didn’t dispose of properly. Cue the chaste romance that blossoms between the two as the VCD prepares to fight a powerful vampire king that’s on the verge of resurrecting when the once-in-a-century blood moon rises.
Vampire Cleanup Department is enjoyable in a throwaway kind of way, and it’s forgotten as soon as the credits roll. But it cleverly, and with a knowing wink, ticks a lot of boxes from the industry’s supernatural comedy-romance heyday, complete with a lunar anomaly, a rival government body, awkward Cantonese spoken by the token white guy, some terrible subtitles (“You have the immunity against vampire toxic!”) and a syrupy Cantopop song to wrap it all up. Those are not bad things, though; they're very much part of the charm of these films, and writers Yan, Ho Wing-hong and Ashley Cheung are clearly familiar with the genre’s history. The script is dotted with some genuinely funny moments — Tim’s urge to answer his iPhone even after Summer has swallowed it is a visual gag that works much better than it has a right to — and revels in its B-movie status.
If there’s a flaw, it’s in the tepid romance between Tim and Summer, and Tim's quest to convince the old-timers that killing vampires isn’t always necessary in light of Summer’s increasing humanity, though the message is admirable and newcomer Lin does a nice job as the girl learning to be a girl. Things pick up in the third act when the big bad finally reappears, but a bigger monster mash would have been welcome. Vampire Cleanup Department’s special effects (by Fong Wai-kit) are suitably cheesy, and supporting turns by favorites Siu Yam-yam, comedian Jim Chim and Eric Tsang lend the whole affair some old-school credibility.
Production companies: Media Asia, Entertaining Power, Samart Limited, mm2 Studios Hong Kong
Cast: Babyjohn Choi, Chin Siu-ho, Lin Min-chen, Richard Ng, Lo Meng, Bonnie Chiu, Yuen Cheung-yan, Siu Yam-yam, Jiro Lee
Directors: Yan Pak-wing, Chiu Sin-hang
Screenwriters: Yan Pak-wing, Ho Wing-hong, Ashley Cheung
Producers: Ha Yue, Angus Chan
Executive producer: Man Pui-hing
Director of photography: Choi Ko-bei
Production designer: Ceci Fok
Costume designer: Fung Pik-ying
Editor: Tong Wai-wing
Music: Chiu Sin-hang, Marco Wan, Ho Kwan-wai
World sales: Young Live Entertainment