Part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival
When the naive Tim (BabyJohn Choi) is attacked by a vampire, he discovers a secret organisation, the titular Vampire Cleanup Department, that recruits him to join their team of vampire-busters. The organisation, led by the elderly Chung (Richard Ng), initially treats Tim like an errand boy, despite his vampire-hunting lineage. However, when a supernatural threat in the form of a vampire king arises, Tim must be trained to fight alongside them. Further complicating matters is Tim’s romance with Summer (Lin Min-chen) a female “human type” vampire who he discovers on his first mission. Can Tim help his friends to save Hong Kong whilst also keeping his relationship with a vampire a secret?
First-time directors Chiu and Yan successfully update the classic Hong Kong horror-comedy format that was popular during the 1980’s and 90’s with films such as Mr Vampire and Haunted Cop Shop. The film features all of the tropes prevalent in these films, such as the “goeng si” – Chinese vampire/zombie hybrids that can only move by hopping, the Taoist priest heroes who are the only ones able to stop the supernatural threat and a romance between the young protagonist and the ghost or goeng si. However, advances in visual and makeup effects help to make the battles between the members of the Vampire Cleanup Department and the goeng si more dynamic.
In particular, the goeng si resemble corpse-like vampires with rotting flesh and the VCD’s disposing of them results in each vampire burning up and dissolving into CGI animated skeletons, bringing to mind the use of a similar effect in Hollywood’s Blade. In addition, the film spends greater time developing the mythology of the goeng si, with various different types of vampire listed along with their strengths and weaknesses. There are also training montages where Tim’s uncle Chau (horror veteran Chin Siu Ho) teaches him specific martial arts techniques in order to defeat the goeng si.
However, it my be surprising to those unfamiliar with the narrative conventions of Hong Kong horror that the middle section of the film is given over to the romance between Tim and Summer. Both Choi and Lin have a great deal of chemistry, particularly in humorous moments such as Summer having Tim’s iPhone lodged in her throat, leading to misunderstandings with Tim’s eccentric grandmother. Whilst the romantic subplot occasionally drags, with overly-long sections where Tim tries to keep Summer occupied by watching old movies on television, Choi and Lin’s charismatic performances prevent the film from getting too sentimental.
Vampire Cleanup Department is a welcome return to a tried and tested genre for 21st Century audiences. See it if you like your horror films to have a touch of slapstick comedy and romance.