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Chin Siu Ho (Actor) | Babyjohn Choi (Actor) | Lin Min Chen (Actor) | Yuen Cheung Yan (Actor)
This professional review refers to Vampire Cleanup Department (2017) (Blu-ray) (Hong Kong Version)
There have been several attempts of late to rejuvenate the Hong Kong hopping vampire or kyonshi genre which so was popular in the 1980s and 1990s, including Juno Mak's Rigor Mortis and the Wong Jing-produced Sifu vs Vampire. Sadly, though not without their merits, neither managed to really succeed in bringing the form back to life, leaving it to first time directors Anthony Yan and Chiu Siu Hang to step up and take another stab with their horror comedy Vampire Cleanup Department. Fittingly, the film stars Chin Siu Ho, who turned up a number of hopping vampire outings during the heyday of the form, often alongside the immortal Lam Ching Ying, including the classic Mr. Vampire. Chin is joined by fellow veterans Yuen Cheung Yan (Once Upon a Time In China), Law Mong (Five Deadly Venoms), Siu Yam Yam (Love off the Cuff) and Richard Ng (Rigor Mortis), as well as newcomers Babyjohn Choi (Shock Wave) and Malaysian singer Lin Min Chen, making her big screen debut.
The film opens with Babyjohn Choi as Tim, an orphaned young man who joins the Vampire Cleanup Department (VCD), a secret group tasked with protecting Hong Kong from the hopping undead, patrolling the streets at night dressed as street cleaners. Led by vampire hunter Captain Chau (Chin Siu Ho), backed by Uncle Chung (Richard Ng), Taoist priest Ginger (Yuen Cheung Yan), weapons specialist Kui (Law Mong) and technical expert M (Bondy Chiu), the older men initially are wary of letting Tim become part of the team, until it's revealed that he has a rare immunity to vampires. After undergoing rigorous training, he takes on his first mission, which unfortunately results in the escape of a particularly powerful old vampire, as well as an attractive and innocent female vampire (Lin Min Chen) who takes a liking to him and follows him home.
Kyonshi fans rejoice – Vampire Cleanup Department is the real deal, an entertaining and fast-paced throwback that provides a welcome reminder of what made the genre so much fun in the first place. While neither Rigor Mortis and Sifu vs Vampire quite seemed to know if they wanted to modernise or just pay homage to the classics of the past, Anthony Yan and Chiu Siu Hang focus on simply getting down to business, packing in plenty of hopping vampire action, martial arts, wacky comedy and Taoist trappings. Though the film is set in the present day, it manages to nail a timeless feel, and indeed would have been perfectly acceptable had it been labelled as a Mr. Vampire sequel or reboot, recalling the classic in terms of its frenetic mix of laughs and the supernatural. The film benefits from being genuinely likeable, Yan and Hang having an obvious affection for the material, balancing nostalgia with more modern trappings and techniques – the action choreography is strong, and the special effects are a pleasing mix of CGI and the practical, with a few surprisingly gory scenes thrown in for good measure.
The cast really help in this respect, and though no-one can replace Lam Ching Ying, having Chin Siu Ho gives things a boost, the actor having learned his craft and the sifu role very well, playing it with a fitting stern and stoic decency – Chin is certainly an experienced Kyonshi star, and as well as Mr. Vampire also featured in the likes of Vampire vs. Vampire, The Ultimate Vampire and New Mr. Vampire, as well as in Rigor Mortis. It's similarly great to see Richard Ng, Yuen Cheung Yan, Law Mong and Siu Yam Yam, providing another link to the favourites of the past, and this gives the film the air of an ensemble piece, each having their own gags and gimmicks in the team position. Perhaps surprisingly, Babyjohn Choi and Lin Min Chen also do very well in their roles, and though it might have been feared that they'd been simply copied and pasted into the film to add a little youth appeal, both are amiable and engaging in their roles, the romance between the two of them never feeling too gratuitous and having at least some emotional impact.
Kyonshi fans should find a great deal to enjoy and admire about Vampire Cleanup Department, and it's arguably the best of the recent efforts to breathe life back into the genre. Anthony Yan and Chiu Siu Hang do a great job of tapping into the essence of Mr. Vampire et al, and while the film is the very definition of throwaway fun, it's an accomplished and entertaining revisiting of a much beloved form.
by James Mudge - EasternKicks.com
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