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Rigor Mortis (2013)
Well Go USA
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/8/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/1/2014
About 15 years ago, when movies like Ringu and Ju-on: The Grudge were finding popularity in the United States, a lot of people were going through their Asian horror movie phase. While I certainly enjoyed those movies, I had started exploring scary fare from the other side of the world several years earlier thanks to a somewhat sketchy video store which had a lot of "import" tapes. (Those in the know will understand why import was in quotation marks.) Those films were appealing to their no-holds-barred attitudes and the facets of the film which unique to Asia. For some reason, those films haven't been making it over here recently, so when one comes along, you must grasp it. Rigor Mortis isn't perfect, but it's throw-back nature makes it worth checking out.
Chin Siu-ho stars in Rigor Mortis as a character named Chin Siu-ho. He's an actor who achieved success when young, but his career has now stalled. Because of this, he's moving into a dilapidated apartment building. Once he enters his apartment, he's overwhelmed by his depression (which is fueled by memories of his family) and attempts to kill himself, but he's rescued by Yau (Anthony Chan), a cook who is also a taoist. Following this event, we begin to learn about all of the strange happenings in the building. Chin's apartment is haunted by former tenants who died there. When Auntie Miu's (Hee Ching Paw) husband dies, she turns to black magic to bring him back, which results in a world of problems. Instead of working on putting his own life back together, Chin finds himself forced to help Yau stop the evil which is spreading throughout the tenement.
There are two things which I know for sure about Rigor Mortis -- This movie had some very cool moments and I didn't understand some of it. Let's tackle that second notion first. This film is unabashedly Chinese. We get a Taoist priest, a discussion of how glutinous rice can be used to fight vampires, hungry ghosts, hopping vampires, prayers on paper, and a big wok. The basic plot of the film is fairly easy to follow, but some of these specifics will seem very foreign (pun intended) to someone who is brand new to Chinese horror movies. For example, vampires in China don't correspond to the classic European vampires to which we are accustomed. They are reanimated corpses, but they are repelled by the Earth, so they "hop" along. There's also the notion that the Taoist priests are, for some reason, never surprised when supernatural baddies appear and they are always ready to do battle. If you don't at least have a general knowledge of some of these things, then Rigor Mortis may seem like a poorly written film.
Unique story components aside, Rigor Mortis is a visual feast and the supernatural action sequences are top-notch. First-time Director Juno Mak has clearly done his homework as he has filled the film with kinetic action sequences which are comprised of lovingly crafted shots. The film's opening shot is certainly intriguing, but it's not necessarily anything special. It's the suicide attempt scene which will make you sit up and take notice. Not just because of the frenetic action which follows, but because of Mak's impressive understanding of how a shot should be staged and how our minds process motion. The finale is a dizzying display of great shots and imaginative production design which enhance the fantastic nature of the story. The meaning of the scene in which four giants are roaming the halls was lost on me, but it was certainly eye-catching.
Under the watchful eye of legendary Japanese director Takashi Shimizu, who serves as producer here, Mak has certainly created a noteworthy film which will no doubt delight fans of old school Category III Hong Kong horror films. The only drawback here are a few story problems. The movie jumps around a bit too much (no pun intended) as it focuses on the various characters. In addition, the ending, which is somewhat confusing on first watch, isn't very satisfying. Movies like this should either have oddly happy endings or very depressing ones, but this one falls somewhere in the middle. While you may walk away dissatisfied at first, you'll find yourself thinking back to the awesome action scenes. You may not understand every second of Rigor Mortis, but that won't stop you from staring wide-eyed at the visuals.
Rigor Mortis made me crave Chinese food on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Well Go USA. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing essentially no grain and no defects from the source materials. Often movies from Asia, even modern ones, can show obvious image problems, but not here. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is very good, which really adds to the film, and the depth is notable. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As much of the action takes place in the cramped apartments and corridors, we get some good stereo and surround sound effects here. The effects are nicely detailed and show good separation. The front and rear channels work together and don't simply duplicate one another. The subwoofer effects kick in during the action sequences, adding texture to the scenes.
The lone extra feature on the Rigor Mortis Blu-ray Disc is a TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long