Rigor Mortis (2013)

Move over James Franco, it looks like there’s another artistic polymath in town!

Okay, we’ll put the E! news hyperbole to one side. However, it doesn’t change the fact that Juno Mak is a man for all seasons. An actor, singer, model and record producer, this Hong Kong ghost story is his first foray under the job title of Director with Rigor Mortis. A failed actor (Chin Siu-Ho) moves into a rundown tenement building and after putting his foot over the threshold, decides to end his life. From that point on, he becomes embroiled in a supernatural adventure involving the living dead and vampires.

This is Juno Mak’s tribute to the Mr Vampire films that ran from the 80s-90s. Indeed, Rigor Mortis features a number of cast members from those films, with Chin Siu-Ho having appeared in the original. For fans of Hong Kong cinema, the film provides an opportunity to play a game of Where’s Wally, without alienating the casual viewer.

Juno Mak has not walked into this venture sheepishly, having clearly gone for an all or nothing approach to directing. Rigor Mortis is a slick piece of work that provides some exhilarating set pieces. However, despite the potential for some scares, it seems to have trouble pressing all the right buttons. Sadly, from vengeful spirits to old ladies wanting their deceased husbands back, there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before.

Where it does work though, is through its superbly choreographed fight scenes that bristle with energy. In addition, Anthony Chan as the disgruntled, eternally smoking vampire hunter Yau, provides the majority of the film’s enjoyment by stealing every scene he’s in. Remove these two factors however, and you’re left with a something that flails around too much to keep the interest bubbling.

The film even loses track of its protagonist, as Chin Siu-Ho disappears for a large chunk of the film. If the energy levels encapsulated in its fight scenes were maintained throughout, then Rigor Mortis would certainly engage more than it does. It would certainly justify the ending that comes out of nowhere like a kick to the shins.

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