Judge Brett Cullum likes to kill vampires with his stylish sticky rice.
Evil has come.
Rigor Mortis is a recent addition to the J-Horror genre, although it has Hong Kong origins and martial arts up its sleeve. The story starts off with a washed up actor (Chin Siu-ho, playing himself) who has come to a haunted apartment complex with the intent of taking his own life. Instead, he finds himself face to face with many supernatural beings who prove far more menacing than his own personal demons. A fast ally comes in the form of Yau (Antony "Friend" Chan). He reveals himself to be a retired vampire hunter who now runs a food stall because undead assassins make great sticky rice. There are many other assorted forlorn residents, including: Auntie Mui (Nina Paw), an old sewing pro who's trying to bring her recently deceased husband, Uncle Tung (Richard Ng), back into this mortal realm; Gau (Chung Fat), an occult expert who comes and goes suspiciously around the periphery of the building; and Yeung Fang (Kara Wai), who dwells under the building in a perpetual state of trauma with her albino son, Pak.
Rigor Mortis is a stylish affair, and it comes by it rather naturally. Director Juno Mak is an actor, singer, record producer, and fashion maven. This is the first time he has ever directed a feature film, and he does it with a flair for visuals rather than terror. It is an homage to the "hopping vampire" films popular in Hong Kong during the '80s and early '90s. It's a subgenre of martial arts and horror that is so specific it will be lost on many American audiences unless they are well versed in the obscure niche. The film gets a strange Asian blessing from J-horror maven Takashi Shimizu, known for The Grudge, who helped produce the feature. He lends it the name recognition that should draw all of the Japanese fright fans.
Mainly Rigor Mortis is concerned with elaborate CGI creatures and mixing them with martial arts. It tries hard to create its own new subgenre; however, the entire movie gets bogged down paying homage to an obscure feature named Mr. Vampire and bringing in Jackie Chan inspired action. There are so many Asian in-jokes that American audiences may be left simply scratching their heads and shrugging it all off rather than realizing what is happening in front of them. Fans of the original source material are going to be puzzled since all the comedy has been leeched right out of the movie. It's like remaking Fright Night, and removing any and all of the humor, rather going for gore and spectacle.
The Blu-ray is a nice technical presentation with nary a hint of digital artifacts or problems with the visuals in this 2.39:1/1080p HD transfer. The main color is a sickly gray and it's balanced well with the scarlet red of blood when called for. Audio options include the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track in its original Cantonese as well as an English dub. I found the original track preserves the performances, but the dub does offer viewers a chance to concentrate on the visuals rather than reading the dialogue exchanges. The subtitles reveal a much saltier script than the English actors deliver with a ton more foul words scattered throughout. The extra is simply an impressive trailer which created a lot of buzz for the film on the festival circuit.
In the end, Rigor Mortis is certainly a visually stunning romp, but it doesn't offer many chills or a great deal of coherence. I had fun with the ghosts and found the CGI effects outstanding. If you're a fan of style over substance then this one should be right up your alley, but if you are looking for some depth like The Ring or The Grudge, it is not here. This is an elaborate nod to a subgenre of films that lasted a decade in the Hong Kong cinemas, but it doesn't capture the spirit of humor and horror the originals had. Instead Rigor Mortis seems fine trotting out its spooks and throwing them up on a catwalk to preen and pose for the audience. They are high end designer products, but they are missing any soul to speak of.
Guilty of being as stiff as the name implies, but a well-dressed corpse has
its own charms.
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