Hong Kong cinema you say? Count me right in. If you haven’t yet introduced yourself to this territory’s cinema, you need to do so immediately. However, don’t let that introduction come in the form of Rigor Mortis.
Chin Siu-Ho (Chin Siu-ho) is a washed up movie actor whose just moved into a crappy apartment complex. He’s also depressed and suicidal because his wife has just left him. The noose finally beckons him, but before he can completely shrug off his mortal coil two ghost twins possess him – only to be rescued by Lau (Anthony Chin), a retired vampire hunter. Meanwhile, Uncle Tung (Richard Ng) bites the dust; his wife Auntie Meiyi (Paw Hee-ching) enlists the help of Gau (Chung Fat), a warlock with the ability to raise people from the dead. But he must use the spirits of the twins to do so – which leads to the creation of a very powerful vampire. Now, Chin and Lau must fight and destroy this villain before he turns the entire complex into his personal blood bank.
Rigor Mortis is a tribute to the Mr. Vampire series of films that were released in Hong Kong from 1985 to 1992, four sequels in total. I haven’t seen any of them so I cannot comment on the tribute aspect and will be judging Rigor Mortis purely on its own terms.
The biggest problem Rigor Mortis has is that the writers Philip Yung, Jill Leung and director Juno Mak are more concerned with stringing together a bunch of set pieces as opposed to developing a plot. Sure, there is one, but it’s rather meandering. It develops threads but does very little with them. Also, the big reveal is a bit of a letdown. Never mind the fact that it takes a long time to get there, then ends shortly thereafter in a rather unexciting battle between Chin and the vampirized Uncle Tung.
Conversely, the atmosphere and visual style are quite good. Clearly Mak has seen more than a few gialli films and he uses many dazzling shots. Also, he knows how to establish an atmosphere of dread that will drag the viewer in (I certainly was). It’s just too bad there isn’t much of a payoff.
It would have been nice to see more gore in the film though. Come on, this is a Hong Kong flick, the same place from whence Ebola Syndrome, Dr. Lamb, and The Untold Story emerged. Yeah, there’s some gore, but those looking for it to be on the same level as the aforementioned films are gonna be disappointed.
Conversely, once again, the characters are more than your average cardboard cutouts. Lau is definitely the high point and the character I found myself most interested in. Really though, all the actors bring their A-game and flesh out the characters really well.
The ending raises a problem too. While researching Rigor Mortis, one site I stumbled upon said the ending depicts what would have happened had there been no supernatural elements in the film. Honestly, I suspect it was a twist ending that negates everything that came before. Either way, it should have been exorcised.
Rigor Mortis is a mixed bag. Good characters, atmosphere and a gialli-like visual style definitely give the film high marks, but a meandering plot, a lack of decent gore and a stupid ending bring the flick down a few notches. In the end, it’s worth at least checking out. Just don’t expect a classic of Hong Kong cinema. You can view Rigor Mortis on Netflix – hopefully before an advanced state of rigor mortis sets in on their horror film selection.