Since 2010, former pop idol Juno Mak has been slowly making his way into Hong Kong cinema, working on different level; as a screenwriter (Revenge: A Love Story), as an actor (Let’s Go!), as a producer (Kudos Films, his own production company), he’s now directing his debut feature-film with Rigor Mortis. Ambitious, the man is becoming one of Hong Kong’s rising figures, bringing out projects clearly inspired by the local culture.
As reflected by his filmography, he’s been involved in films that mix many influences from HK cinema — gory fest, action-thriller, rom-com or vampire-horror films — Mak takes advantage of any opportunities to pay a homage to everything that has inspired him.
At first, that’s exactly what comes out from Rigor Mortis. When international productions have been trying to follow Twilight’s success by producing more (teen) vampire films, this Hong Kong film took another direction, looking at what has been done in HK during the 1980s in order to revisit the genre. Which also explains the film stars some actors from the then-popular Mr. Vampire film series.
Besides that, the film is visually surprising, the cinematography is looking great. Overall it reinforces the creepy, moody tone of the place — using mostly grey colours, it gives the impression the film is set in another world — and the special effects are quite realistic — seriously, except for one or 2 establishing shots, it never looks cheap. And just like Juno Mak’s previous film projects, there’s the obsession to create beautiful shots.
NAIL IN THE COFFIN
Which is precisely where the major problem appears. It’s a beautiful empty shell, even though there’s an intriguing atmosphere and many ideas to bring horror to the screen — like these terrifying wandering spirits, or the J-Horror influence thanks to co-producer Takashi Shimizu. But it lacks a solid story to reveal the full potential of these ideas, to create thrills, to be emotionally engaged with all these sad characters trying to survive in the middle of hell.
Rigor Mortis works more as a chronicle, going from one character to another, each one having its own story quickly introduced. And somehow, everything is connected. The thing is, the film fails to create the link, to develop each characters’ problems in a manner that feels engaging. Because at the center of the story, there’s nobody. At the beginning, it seems the main character is the suicidal actor, yet, the story shifts to another character, leaving the actor as a passive character — when he’s clearly supposed to be the one inviting the audience into this world, trying to learn how the place works, who’s who…
THE LAST WORDS
Rigor Mortis is an aesthetic pleasure, looking for beautiful shots, great visual effects, nice movie references — including some cool short fight movies! Behind that, it lacks the power of a great story that could wake up the bored audience.