Juno Mak, who played the lead in, and wrote the story for, tragic thriller Revenge: A Love Story, makes his directorial debut with a superb, sombre homage to 1980s Chinese vampire films, in particular Ricky Lau’s supernatural action comedy Mr. Vampire. Featuring members of Lau’s original cast, Rigor Mortis foregoes the humour of the earlier film for a brooding, melancholy mood and dreamlike atmosphere. Mr. Vampire’s Chin Siu-Ho plays a forlorn former actor who attempts to commit suicide after moving into a bleak, ominous building. His neighbour Yau intervenes and saves him, but Chin and his neighbours will have to face the dark forces at work in his new home.
Rigor Mortis draws on Chinese vampire mythology, which gives the story a fascinating, mysterious (to Western audiences) edge. Taoist vampire hunter Yau and his ally/nemesis, the black magician Gau, use amulets, spells, glutinous rice and red string (creating gorgeous tentacular visuals), and, in Yau’s case, the Taoist wheel and its five elements, to control the supernatural creatures unleashed – including an impressively macabre zombie/vampire. With CGI used to terrific effect, the film features breath-taking fight sequences that alternate flowing balletic grace with sharp bursts of bloody action.
Startling, beautiful and eerie, Rigor Mortis takes place in an otherworldly realm of constantly croaking crows, muted grey colours, strange children and upside down gardens growing on ceilings, all underpinned by a haunting, creepy score. While the elliptical, circular narrative is left open to interpretation, it seems to suggest that what we are watching is the heroic death dreamed by a dying actor, the casting of Chin Siu-Ho giving added poignancy to this idea. A superb, haunting, darkly poetic debut not to be missed.
Watch the trailer: