Vampire Cleanup Department
aka 救殭清道夫 aka Gao Geung Jing Dou Fu
Written by Yan Pak-Wing, Ho Wing-Hong, and Ashley Cheung Yin-Kei
Directed by Chiu Sin-Hang and Yan Pak-Wing
SFFilm had their annual Hong Kong Film Festival and due to the power of having two tickets leftover from the last festival I went to see two films in this festival! This time, all the films were at the fabulous Vogue Theater, which is a bit of a headache for me to get to but at least parking around there isn’t terrible (also a skunk sprayed my car as thanks for me stopping in time to not hit him as he ran across the road, lol!) While my car now stank, Vampire Cleanup Department did not, but it wasn’t a new paradigm in Hong Kong horror comedy, either. Unfortunately it is one of those middle of the road flicks that are hard to write about, due to me not wanting to slam it too hard due to the parts that were good, but not wanting to praise it to the heavens due to the parts that were bad. It’s sort of a modern take on the Mr. Vampire flicks, except imagine if the one-eyebrowed priest was employed by the Hong Kong government in a secret department. The squad takes down vampires when they pop up, and since this is a Hong Kong film they are of the hopping variety.
We follow Tim Cheung (BabyJohn Choi Hon-Yik) as he moves from hapless schlub to member of the Vampire Cleanup Department. It helps that he is the son of two former members who were killed while on duty, his mother’s last act was giving birth to him after a vampire attack. This makes him a legacy hire but also means he’s got some vampire immunity that is explained just well enough when needed for plot purposes. As the new guy he gets all the garbage details including cleaning up the office via constant sweeping and also memorizing and making the different vampire amulets (the strips of paper with writing on them that the priests put on vampire heads to freeze them or control them.) This framework lets them follow the traditional hero’s journey arc, except with some extra films stuffed along for the ride.
Due to Tim’s magical powers, a female vampire named Summer (Lin Min-Chen, a social media star known for holding weird objects and showing her abs, neither of which her character does here!) absorbs some of his life energy and starts transforming more human. She also develops a vampire crush on him, following him around. Tim hides her away at his house from the rest of the squad, who would kill her on sight. Summer was buried alive as a sacrifice for an evil local landlord, who also was resurrected as a vampire and is now loose in the city searching for her. The amount of vampire attacks this results in also exacerbates the department’s feud with the local police who attempt to take control of their group just as bad stuff is about to go down.
Despite having promise and some good scenes, Vampire Cleanup Department tries to be three different kinds of films and the lack of focus just weakens the whole structure. The horror aspects are fitting for what a horror comedy would be, but a lot of the comedy doesn’t come together correctly outside of the romantic scenes with Tim and the Summer, which means a lot of what should have been romantic scenes are instead comedic. The vampire lord villain isn’t in enough of the film to be a constant threat and is completely unmemorable as a final boss, he’s just a bigger vampire with no real personality or threat beyond being larger. He’s briefly mentioned as being one of the most powerful types of vampires, but that doesn’t translate well to the screen, and the only other time different vampire types are mentioned is to explain Summer’s behavior.
Good things include Richard Ng Yiu-Hon (a Mr. Vampire alum as he was in part 3!) He’s not the only veteran running around, Chin Siu-Ho, who plays Tim’s mentor character Yip Chi-Chan, was also in the original Mr. vampire. Here he’s the gruff guy who doesn’t seem to like Tim much at first but it turns out all his harsh methods were secretly training Tim in skills. he also feels guilt over Tim’s parents’ death.
Siu Yam-Yam plays Tim’s grandmother who acts like she is out of her mind but actually knows all about the vampire thing (and that her child was killed by one) She might be better known as Yum-Yum Shaw as she was billed in older flicks, and of course she has a small role in Mr. Vampire 1992. Here she is charming in her limited screentime, calling Tim the name of her son constantly or making food for people.
While Vampire Cleanup Department isn’t a waste of time, it isn’t going to set the world on fire. This is a first-time direction from the two directors, Chiu Sin-Hang and Yan Pak-Wing, and hopefully they can learn for their next offerings, as the good points show some potential. Keep all this in mind and just have fun, but remember that there are a whole bunch of other, cooler things out there for Hong Kong vampire movies if you need a fixing of good stuff.
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