Mortuary Blues (1990)

Written & directed by: Jeff Lau
Producer: Corey Yuen
Starring: Corey Yuen, Sandra Ng, Lowell Lo, Shelia Chan, Alex To & David Lo

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I've primarily seen Jeff Lau horror-comedies such as Haunted Cop Shop, which was a movie that largely succeeded in it's different areas. The comedy duo consisting of Jacky Cheung and Ricky Hui worked very well together but it also aimed at being a bit scary, something Jeff actually pulled off. What we found in Haunted Cop Shop is in Mortuary Blues with some added Indiana Jones type adventure plus action choreography by Corey Yuen and Yuen Mo.

A couple of actors from a chinese opera troupe gets their hands on, what looks like a treasure map. In trying to get inside the pagoda structure that's supposed to hold the treasure, they set loose an dormant vampire and it's companions. Now, lead by police chief (played by famed choreographer and director Corey Yuen) this group of mismatched people must find the only thing capable of destroying the vampire, a magical sword hidden deep in the pagoda...

It doesn't really matter what the movie is about, who the character are or how the actors performs. Mortuary Blues is far from classy and the first 30 minutes is not the smoothest put on film. Haunted Cop Shop had a better structure but here the first act consists of lots (and I mean lots) of feces, drugs and verbal humour, which must have pleased the Hong Kong cinema audiences (amazingly there's no Wong Jing listed in the credits). I don't particular care for this type of content and Mortuary Blues only have one real merit (and it's not just an ordinary 'only'), it's frenetic energy.

Jeff Lau has not crafted good comedy but does deserve credit for directing highly energetic set pieces involving ghost bashing and other horror-esque elements. It's up to each viewer but I'm hugely entertained by this stuff! It's absolutely insane, only Hong Kong cinema can provide you with that, and seeing Taoist priests or other persons battling the supernatural is just a blast at the movies for me. Here the low budget nature of Hong Kong cinema helps as well. Back in 1990 there was no computerized special effects used in Hong Kong movies so animation was relied upon instead, something that works in these kinds of films. If there had been a more serious tone to Mortuary Blues I think the effects would've unintentionally made the proceedings comedic though. As seen in previous films, Jeff chooses a few moments to create tension and again he manages to find that correct tone. Jeff Lau may be strictly a comedic director but the attempts at horror I've seen have all been honorable ones. Those of you familiar with his work or this genre of movies will notice scenes, lifted and reinterpreted, from Haunted Cop Shop 2 and Hocus Pocus.

Adding to the success Mortuary Blues has is the action design team consisting of Corey Yuen and Yuen Mo. Corey also is in front of the camera and we see him ham it up but all in all, it's a bit of seriousness to his performance (hard to take much serious in this film though). I've always been a fan of his work behind the camera but it's always fun when he turns up in supporting and, with this movie, starring roles. In the action department, Corey and his partner switches everything into high gear and it generates wonderful entertainment throughout, in particular the long and inventive finale. The quote from Stefan Hammond's book Sex & Zen and A Bullet In The Head sure is applicable here: Hong Kong movies kick ass! The rest of the cast screams and acts silly for 90 minutes. It's mostly tiring but when scenes are fast and furious, their over the top acting does help.

I have a feeling most fans are familiar with Jeff Lau through his Chinese Odyssey movies and while I haven't seen signs of a complete horror/comedy filmmaker, there's no denying the skill that is there. That I think Mortuary Blues is a damn entertaining film says a lot about Jeff Lau.

The DVD:

Megastar presents the film in it's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Overall it presents a fairly colourful movie and that goes for the sharpness as well. Print damage is rather heavy when it appears but seeing as those moments are pretty few, it's no distraction as a whole.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 remix spreads out in the front stage and it creates a decent atmosphere. Only in the climax there's use of surrounds to a larger degree and while clearly added in for this remix, the sounds blend ok with the on screen events.

The English subtitles were generally ok and the expected level of errors appeared from time to time. Japanese, Korean, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Extras consist of a cast & crew listing, a screen with the plot synopsis and trailers for Mortuary Blues, Haunted Cop Shop and The Dead And The Deadly.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson