by Michael McCarthy
One of the most interesting things about writer/director Rob Fitz’s God of Vampires is how it starts: like a regular hitman type of movie with character Frank Ng (Dharma Lim) doing a job that’s a bit difficult, yet he glides through it with a degree of ease and precision that immediately paints him as one slick dude. Throughout the film, I kept thinking of various Hong Kong action movies starring Chow Yun-Fat, who’s often been called “the coolest man in the world.” As you watch God of Vampires, Frank Ng quickly occupies that space in your mind.
After that first job, it’s hard to imagine there being any task that would prove too difficult for Frank. Then he’s given a new contract by his faceless boss, The Fixer, who only speaks to his contractors through a makeshift phone booth while using a voice disguiser. The Fixer gives Frank an address to go to where a very strange, monster-esque figure gives him another address where he is to go and kill whoever he finds there, the main target being another crime boss, but they don’t even have a photo to give Frank. What he does have for him is a briefcase containing half a million dollars, another half to be paid after the job is done and he brings him the head of the crime boss he’s to kill.
Given the film’s title, you know the other crime boss is going to turn out to be a vampire. And that this vampire is going to be hard to beat, undoubtedly surrounded by his own deadly vampire crime family. Watching the resulting battles of men versus fang bangers is nothing short of exhilarating.
It must be said that these Chinese vampires are far from being your typical vampires, being that Fitz has written his own Chinese vampire mythology and deserves a big round of applause for throwing out your formulaic vampire rules in favor of something different, his vamps both surprising and refreshing. As for what those rules are, I’m not going to tell you because learning more and more about them as the film goes on is part of the joy of watching it.
One of the things that makes God of Vampires a compelling watch is that there’s something happening at all times. In fact, it’s so busy that you almost wish it would slow down and have some longer conversations and more character development. Of course, I was too captivated and excited to think about that while watching it. It was only after it was over and I started trying to process it like a critic that I found myself thinking that. Seriously, though, it’s a constant smorgasbord of martial arts, vampire bites, blood splattering, guts falling, shoot outs, sword fights and more. Damn near every scene has stunts or special effects.
Each of the major fight scenes feel so climactic that any one of them could have been the movie’s final battle, meaning that they’re all extensive and freakin’ awesome. And yet it constantly raises the bar with each subsequent fight scene being bigger and bigger and the vampire leaders get scarier looking, more powerful, and much harder to kill. So much carnage. And blood. Which brings me to the film’s special effects. There is blood practically everywhere here. I can’t recall the last movie I saw that had this much blood. Now, this was a low budget movie and, knowing that, I’m amazed that they were able to pull off half of these stunts and special effects, but, yes, if you’re being super picky, you could say that some of the gore looks cheesy. You’ll soon get used to it, though. Besides, other effects, like the guts that are constantly spilling out of both man and vampire, look shockingly real. And because they’re not your ultra-modern, massive budget effects, they actually help give the film this timeless quality. A few things give one the impression that it’s somewhat recent, but even a crucial computer printer looks like it’s a good 20 years old already.
Another sweet thing is that the movie looks and feels like it was filmed on location in an actual Chinatown. But more so like a Chinatown in the 50s or 60s. This timeless looking Chinatown and old school FX, again, make it seem like it could be happening anytime during the past several decades. It’s just something nice that sets it apart.
Occasionally, the gore in God of Vampires is so over the top that it becomes funny. It reminded me of Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive in that respect. There are lots of other humorous things, too. Such as when the character Ducky (Ben Wang as the knowledgeable elder Uncle Ping) takes Frank and company to buy guns from some guys he owes a lot of money to, knowing full well that the vampires are going around killing everyone they come into contact with.
One of the things I liked most about Rob Fitz’s directing is how he used light and dark to heighten the suspense. For example, at one point characters are on the hunt somewhere dark and the lighting comes solely – or almost solely – from their flashlights. It’s a very nice touch that reminded me of early Coen Brothers, which certainly had to be a source of Fitz’s inspiration. I also loved his use of close shots, which just reeked of cool and sometimes deliberately made you feel claustrophobic.
A final round of applause has to be for the late Cherry Enoki, who masterfully edited the movie. Its fast pace and skillful usage of multiple camera angles are surely due in part to her impressive work here. To some degree, she almost gives the film the feel of a busy music video, which I mean in a good way. Her razor-sharp editing and Fitz’s direction constantly keep things thrusting forward with never a dull moment.
My only real complaint is that I often couldn’t understand the vampires when they spoke as their voices were processed make them sound evil. I appreciate the idea, but if the movie is ever remastered, I would love it if they’d strip some of the effects away and make the vampires easier to understand. However, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I’ve suffered some hearing loss over the years from attending 150+ concerts and never wearing earplugs. So, it’s possible that they’re perfectly understandable to others and just fall within the range where my hearing has deteriorated.
The bottom line? If you like killer shoot-outs and gory vampires, you’ll love God of Vampires.