I doubt I was the target audience for Juno Mak’s Rigor Mortis, and so it is difficult to be fair about it. For me, this film was a blend of a kung fu movie, CGI spectacle, a foreign drama, and a Shaw Brothers vampire film, and it wasn’t a smooth blend. It also was marketed as a modern day hopping vampire story which created expectation of a movie that was a lot more fun (and faster paced) than this one.
But Horror 101 is about great characters and great performances and sometimes they exist in a vacuum.
Nina Paw Hee-Ching plays Auntie Mui, a seamstress in an apartment who loses her husband to an accident. Unable to cope with the grief, she resorts to dealing with a priest in her tenement, who tries to use black magic to bring her husband back.
The rites don’t really work, and a deteriorating and desperate Mui isolates herself from her neighbors and everyone else, caring for the elaborate rituals to animate her increasingly monstrous husband, until the priest finally mentions one last possibility, the use of the blood of a virgin.
In the best scene of the film, she lures a small child into the bathroom where her husband is, closes the door and allows him to consume the child. None of this is shown, of course, the film focuses on her face instead, as partially shown here.
Hee-Ching was already the highlight of the film at this point, but its here that her performance hits another height. As the screams behind her grow, her resolve begins to crack, and then her conscience takes over.
There’s an unbroken take of this attack, but the camera stays on her face as one emotion after another goes through her mind, and the scary thing is that you know what she is thinking. That to me, is incredible acting. The last time I saw anything this good was Bob Hoskin’s face at the end of The Long Good Friday. I can’t immediately think of a third example.
This is a great performance buried in a forgettable film. Pity.