After surviving being bitten on the arse by a vampire, young slacker Tim becomes inducted into the Vampire Cleanup Department, a clandestine subdivision of Hong Kong’s sanitation sector. On his first night he encounters a wizened old vampire, only for his blood to transform her into a beautiful young woman. Unable to bring himself to kill her, he instead attempts to teach her human behaviour, all the while the rather more unpleasant bloodsucking undead monster with whom she shared a coffin begins to rise.
Yes, it’s all a very familiar setup, but is also one that’s actually quite fun, at least to begin with. Rather than the Dracula-derived night creatures more familiar to westerners, the vampires depicted here are the jiangshi, a type from Chinese folklore probably best known through the Mr Vampire series of kung fu horror comedies, to which this film attempts to be a successor. Inherently comedic creatures, they hold their arms in front of them as though sleepwalkers in a dated cartoon and move by slowly jumping forwards in two-footed leaps like a drunkard playing hopscotch, making it a small wonder they ever catch anyone.
The film’s tone harks back to the ‘80s when the sub-genre’s popularity was at its height, although with effects augmented with modern CGI. The resultant style is vibrant and colourful, matching the story’s surreal lack humour.
As well as the action, the film is also something of a romantic comedy. The scenes between Tim and the vampire girl – whom he christens Summer – are actually quite sweet, like awkward teenagers unsure of how to act around each other. Summer is a being of pure innocence, her vampiric tendencies instinctive and habitual rather than malicious, making her seem more than anything like a puppy being trained in acceptable behaviour. It’s clear Tim is infatuated with her and wants her to embrace the humanity his affection gradually brings forth, and she does genuinely seem to reciprocate, but her being undead leaves her unable to verbally respond, Tim instead receiving only proxy interactions via a Siri-esque app on a phone she swallowed.
Away from the romance there is some action, but not as much as you would expect, which leaves proceedings lacking in the required level of excitement, while some sub-plots, such as the police attempting to develop a cure for vampirism, are given basic lip-service before being forgotten about. The other significant plotline, that of the appearance of a master vampire, is not given adequate attention to strike with the required impact, and so upon its fruition it – and thus the film as a whole – ends up seeming rushed.
A good introduction to a segment of vampire lore with which viewers may be unfamiliar, Vampire Cleanup Department starts well but ultimately ends up in overly familiar territory that meanders through a short running time. While a fun distraction and an admirable attempt at resurrecting a once-popular subgenre, overall it’s nothing special.
VAMPIRE CLEANUP DEPARTMENT / CERT: TBA / DIRECTOR: PAK-WING YAN, SIN-HANG CHIU / SCREENPLAY: PAK-WING YAN, WING-HONG HO, ASHLEY CHEUNG / STARRING: BABYJOHN CHOI, MIN CHEN LIN, SIU-HO CHIN, RICHARD NG, CHEUNG-YAN YUEN / RELEASE DATE: TBA
Expected Rating: 7/10