Melbourne International Film Festival 2014, Uncategorized

Rigor Mortis, MIFF 2014

1 Comment 14 August 2014

Juno Mak effectively resurrected the forgotten genre of  Geung Si or ‘Chinese hopping vampires’ with his directional debut Rigor Mortis. This thrilling and immersive film takes us on a journey that combines surrealist imagery with traditional storytelling. Rigor Mortis is a stylish tribute to ’80s comedy horror series Mr. Vampire, and features some of the film series’ original cast – Chin Siu-ho, Anthony Chan, Billy Lau and Richard Ng – with additions Nina Paw and Chung Fat.

The film features Chin Siu-ho as himself; an actor who checks into a room of a ramshackle housing complex with the intention of suicide. Unbeknownst to him is the sinister history of the room he has chosen. The twin spirits who inhabit the room are looking for a body to possess and the anguished actor provides a nice vessel for them. He is fortunate enough to be rescued by Chan Yau (Anthony Chan), an ex-vampire hunter who now runs a food stall inside the complex.The tenants gather around to watch Yau in action as he expels the spirits. After this incident, our protagonist is still reluctant to accept the supernatural occurrences around him and goes into a sort of filmic comatose. The same can be said of Yau, who refuses to interfere with supernatural affairs again.

Rigor Mortis is about the pair and how they come to work together, but as Chin and Yau bottom-trawl the narrative for a while, subplots carry the film. The death of Auntie Mui’s (Nina Paw) husband and her desperate efforts to resurrect him with the help of a deceptive occult specialist Gau (Chung Fat) play a significant part in the plot. There’s also emotionally disturbed mother, Yueng Teng, and her young albino son, Pak, who constantly lurk in Chin’s apartment.

Teng and Pak are part of a larger symbolic reference to the colour white throughout Rigor Mortis. Pak says, “… white is the most beautiful colour in the world”, which is crazy considering violent and disturbing flashbacks of the character’s past are in angelic white; flashbacks that give a glimpse of past psychological wounds, but never truly delve into them enough to enhance narrative understanding.

Exorcists, ghosts and hopping vampires aside, Paw’s performance as Auntie Mui is the highlight of Rigor Mortis. You are constantly unsure about whether or not to sympathise with her or feel anger towards her. Either way, Paw’s portrayal of Auntie Mui is simply outstanding, making her someone you feel moved by. Her character-forming grief, a terrifying reminder of how love and loss can impact a person in the worst of ways.

There are many shots from windows and peepholes, a voyeuristic style of cinematography that works well with Rigor Mortis’ atmosphere and underlying themes. On top of that, the art direction and sound is superb.

The familiarity of all the ghostly croaking and gargling from the long-haired contortionist ghost can be pointed to Takashi Shimizu’s (director of The Grudge) undeniable influence, as he co-produced Rigor Mortis. Asian cult cinema goers and those with prior knowledge of Chinese folklore may pick up on these small things and understand Rigor Mortis a little bit better. It isn’t completely necessary to understand the reason behind recipes for raising the dead or the significance of glutinous rice, though some aspects may get lost on a Western audience.

Rigor Mortis will send chills down your spine with suggestive imagery rather than screamers. Mak’s first feature comes close to being somewhat of a masterpiece, if not for it’s ending. It is tiring and cumbersome to come to the end of the film, with a twist that feels like the result of last minute decision making. It will leave you with more questions than it does answers, but one thing is for sure, Rigor Mortis is definitely worth a watch.

3.8/5 stars


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