Thursday, September 16, 2010

'God of Vampires' is okay fusion of genres

God of Vampires (2010)
Starring: Dharma Lim, Ben Wang, Morris Chung, Evan Lam, Shy Theerakulstit, and Jason Argento
Director: Rob Fitz
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Hit man Frank Ng (Lim) knows that in his line of work one kills first and asks questions later. But when a contract brings him into direct conflict with a powerful Chinese vampire lord, Frank discovers that he probably should have asked some questions. With undead stalking and killing everyone around him--even those he happens to pass on the street--Frank turns to an underground doctor and specialist in the occult (Wang) for help. But can even ancient Chinese secrets stop the wrathful onslaught of the undead?

"God of Vampires" is one of those movies that was a labor of undying love and the product of unyielding dedication. Director/co-writer Rob Fitz and his cast of actors have been spending weekends for ten years working on this film. Interviews with cast members and one of the directors of photography, as well as behind-the-scenes documentary footage included on the recently released DVD chronicle the often-times difficult, more-often-than-not stressful process of part-time filmmaking on a tiny budget. These extras are worth the price of the DVD by themselves if you're thinking about making a movie with your buddies, or perhaps even trying to move it up a step and actually get real talent to work with you on it. They are also interesting viewing and far more useful than the usual promotional crap masquerading as documentary material one usually finds on DVDs.

But, from a horror movie viewer's perspective, did the ten years of blood (both real and fake), sweat, and tears pay off?

For the most part, yes. The film is an interesting fusion of the horror and action genres that has at its center a Chinese spin on vampires and undead that many of us who consume a steady diet of coffin-sleeping emos with vaguely eastern European-sounding names will find fresh and usual. The action is generally well-staged--even if there are a couple of points where creative camera placement is used in attempts to hide a few budget short-falls and the limits to what could be done stunt-wise and location-wise--with the fights scenes being exceptionally well-staged for a film at this level of production. The acting is also superior to what I've come to expect from low-budget films. Finally, Fitz and his cinematographers had a great sense for dramatic visuals, and they picked great locations and then maximized them with some excellent camera-work. All in all, I don't think I've come across a more enjoyable fusion of vampire lore since the first time it was done with "The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires."

However, the film does have its flaws. The biggest of these is the fact that when it should be building to a frenetic climax, it seems instead to slow down. From the point where our group of in-over-their-head vampire killers walk up to the vampire lord's lair in cool-looking slow-motion, what had been a fast-moving film suddenly feels like it is dragging, despite all the violence and mayhem that is unfolding. Even the final battle between Frank and the vampire lord seems like it goes on for a little too long, despite the fact that it features some nice stunt-fighting and sword-play. Part of the problem is that for the first time in the film there are times when characters stop to deliver lines or jokes at times that are completely out of step with the overall flow of events, but a bigger problem is that it's difficult to follow what's going on because many of the scenes during these important climactic battles were either underlit or the film was over-exposed. While one problem could have been fixed with some re-evaluation of the final cut, the other one was probably insurmountable with a movie made by part-timers over the span of a decade.

All in all, though, the good outweighs the bad, and this DVD is worth a look by both lovers of vampire movies and those contemplating making films themselves.

(Oh... and all the gore and gun-play effects are done the old-fashioned way, with squibs and blood-packs and real firearms loaded with blanks. None of this digital nonsense that is showing up everywhere. "God of Vampires" is Exhibit #1 in the case that the old ways are still the best ways when it comes to movie violence.)

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