J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

NYAFF ’17: Vampire Cleanup Department

Summer is one of those hopping Chinese vampires, but she can be taught to walk. The question is, can she be taught be human again? Tim Cheung is convinced she can, but that puts him in a rather awkward spot as a trainee in Hong Kong’s super-secret vampire-hunting agency. At least he has a natural immunity to vampires, but they can still kill him the conventional way in Yan Pak-wing & Chiu Sin-hang’s don’t-take-it-too-seriously Vampire Cleanup Department (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 New York Asian Film Festival.

Instead of a smart-dressing Men in Black-style outfit, the Vampire Cleanup Department (VCD) is a top-secret subsidiary of the sanitation department. Members push brooms by day and wear orange vests while on the job. Of course, that means nobody questions their presence, even at the goriest crime scenes—nobody except the dedicated police detective (a cameo appearance from NYAFF honoree Eric Tsang), who gets an earful from Cheung when he tells the copper his story, in media res.

Cheung happened to stumble upon the VCD, including his hard-nosed Uncle Chau, in the middle of a case, even getting a bite in the buttocks from their prey. Given his immunity, the rest of the squad prevails upon Chu to let him join. After all, it is a family tradition. In addition to Chau, Cheung’s late parents actually died while in service with the VCD. However, one of his first duties is the incineration of vampires immobilized by old Master Ginger’s paper amulets. Yet, the sight of what look like tears running down Summer’s face spurs him to save her undead life. Yes, she is cute, why do you ask? Keeping her safe will require a lot of farcical scampering around, since he is housed in a shack adjacent to VCD headquarters, but he is convinced she is one of the rare “human type” vampires. There is also a decidedly more sinister and powerful vampire afoot, but the film doesn’t show much interest in him until the climax.

VCD is cute and affectionately knowing in its references to old school HK vampire comedies. Most significantly, Chau is played by Chin Siu-ho of the Mr. Vampire franchise. However, the film has the attention span of a ten-year-old who skipped their Ritalin in favor of a Red Bull. Aside from the admittedly appealing romance the blossoms between Summer and Cheung, the narrative skips around seemingly at random.

Still, there are plenty of goofy gags that veteran cast-members Richard Ng and Yuen Cheung-yan milk for all their worth. Yet, quite surprisingly, it is the paranormal romance that works best, thanks in large to Lin Min-chen, who is quite a find as Summer. You certainly can’t accuse Babyjohn Choi of being afraid of a little physical comedy, but his put-upon Cheung gets a bit tiresome over time.

VCD wears both its heart and its goofiness on its sleeve. For those who grew up with hopping HK vampire movies, it is probably a nostalgic blast, but it is otherwise a rather fluffy bit of sweetness for general genre viewers, which make it exponentially more fun than the mummified Tom Cruise. Recommended for fans of real horror movie spoofs that don’t have the words “scary” and “movie” in the title, Vampire Cleanup Department screens this Saturday (7/15), at the SVA Theatre, as part of this year’s NYAFF.

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