After a decade filled with the undead and glowing, girly vampires, it’s time for some classic horror, and we’re not talking lycans and mutated monsters. No, the writer of action comedies, including Full Strike and Let’s Go!, Yan Pak-wing, along with Chiu Sin-hang, make their directorial debut with a ode to 80s Hong Kong horror comedies, Vampire Cleanup Department (VCD).
Like the hopping blood sucking films of the late 80s and early 90s, audiences are not dealing with gore porn, or whatever horror flavour currently dominates the landscape. The hopping vampires plasted with a strip of yellow talisman on their forehead are an icon and VCD relishes in introducing the genre to a new group of audiences.
The twist here is that it’s also a romance comedy. Our main hero is the nerdy Tim Cheung (Babyjohn Choi), who finds out about a group of vampire hunters who moonlight as street cleaners by accident. A vampire bite in an arse later, the group decides to train him in the ways of vampire street cleaning duties, complete with broom-wielding martial arts antics and talisman paper-writing-and-pasting. What? No sword made from ancient Chinese coins?
But then, Tim gets distracted with a century-old vampire, who transforms into a docile-yet-mute girl named Summer, after a mishap involving Tim’s blood and his iPhone ending up in her belly. Don’t ask.
Pretty soon, they fall for each other, despite one of them being part of the undead category. Oh, and then there’s a vampire lord who is on the verge of resurrection, via a rare blood moon appearance that our meek hero has to take care of.
Hippy To The Hip Hip Hop…
Essentially, this is Jonathan Levine’s Warm Bodies (2013), but with Chinese vampires and a deep love for 80s film grain aesthetics, mashed onto contemporary times. And a whole lot of camp and inventive tongue-in-cheek moments too.
The focus is clearly on the relationship between Tim and Summer, where he works around her special qualities while the latter learns to act like a human being. It’s handled in a genuinely sweet manner, such that you can’t help but see how it all plays out.
It definitely has a lot to do with Malaysian pop singer Lin Min-Chen playing the part right. She puts on her doe-eyed face, and hops around a lot like an 80s undead vampire would, while letting her facial expressions and mannerisms do all the talking. There’s a lot more life and chemistry here ironically, which is more than I can say for most big-budgeted films.
The actual Vampire Cleanup Department crew also get their day in the sun too. Veteran Richard Ng gets all the best lines as old man Chung, while Chin Siu-Ho plays the badass gruff sifu uncle Chau. The Maoist monk Ginger and the weapons specialist also play their unflinching roles just fine, without outstaying their welcome, with the latter cosplaying as a Hammer Horror Film vampire for training purposes.
Most importantly, the action and comedy work well together. The running gags, such as Tim using his phone, while it’s in Summer, to communicate works well and pays off especially later in a scene with his trash-hoarding grandmother. Hearing Chung break out some English is a hoot, and seeing Tim’s constant sweeping and dustpanning paying off into credible training is an arguably better update of The Karate Kid’s “wax on, wax off” technique. Tim’s full name is also a bit of a pun too if you’re up to date with your Chinese.
A Bloody Good Time?
If I have one gripe, is that I wish the film could add on a lot more camp and exploit more tropes. The rival government body that features a Caucasian subordinate who speaks awkward Chinese could have had a bigger payoff, instead of a mere reference. The third act needed a bit more work too. It felt too convenient for the old vampire hunters to rally up together so quickly, after just a bit of emotional conflict. As badass as the eventual vampire lord fight was, the overall climax could have been a bigger monster mash.
I wasn’t even sure if the subtitles were meant to be terrible as well. We have such gems like “vampire landlords”, and Chau asking Tim to “satisfy” his grandmother, when he should be saying “make her proud”. It can be a tad confusing to follow, but the story is simple enough so it’s more nitpicking at this point on.
This film is still worth the watch. The plot is predictable, but really, it’s the journey that matters. The special effects are suitably cheesy, most of the comedy flies and sticks the landing, the leads are enjoyable to watch, and the old-school aesthetics are pulled off authentically.