Saturday, 3 December 2016

Rigor Mortis

Asian movies like the fantastic Mr Vampire series, and Magic Cop (1990) - one of my favourites, in particular, provided fine examples of a Cantonese fun-fantasy style that helped create Hong Kong’s superhero-cinema brand as such a distinctive and fashionable model. RIGOR MORTIS (2013), the directorial debut of Juno Mak, is a superbly conceived tribute to that era of invention, with updated effects that make stunning use of CGI.

“So, you know that vampires are afraid of glutinous rice?”

Depressed actor Chin moves into a flat in a tower block of rundown housing, where he attempts to commit suicide. Although his hanged body invites evil spirits to possess him, resident spiritualist Lau ‘saves’ his life... 

Beginning with an exorcism fu action scene and eccentric performances of sympathetic characters, the setting of the cursed slum tenement becomes more than simply a backdrop for events. It’s both a symptomatic response to the general malaise of social deprivation and ultimately a vehicle for the negative energies otherworldly oppression. Another well-meaning sorcerer performs a ‘resurrection’ spell on the quasi-mummified husband of a grief-stricken widow. Non-hopping vampires stalk the corridors, acrobatic blood fiends jump from walls to ceiling, and spooky white-haired orphan boy Pak is the almost-mute witness to a crucible of encroaching apocalypse.

Although Rigor Mortis carries on basically light-hearted traditions of the memorable Mr Vampire cycle, domestic violence of the past has left its mark on a building where every day brings another trauma or tragedy and demonic forces (twin ghosts, unmasked zombie) muster madly against the luckless tenants, and so the movie’s plot also draws upon The Grudge and varied copycats. Furthermore, washed out colouring here adds a generally more sombre tone, and ensures the splashy use of vivid reds standout like punctuation and chaptering. This is an excellent blending of digital visuals, gloomy atmosphere, and marvellous horror stunts. It is astonishingly witty entertainment with the mesmerising power of dreams. 

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