Vampire Cop Ricky Review
One has to wonder why it’s taken director Lee Si-myung four years to come out with a new film after the disastrous 2009: Lost Memories, which performed modestly at the South Korean box office. Come to think of it I’ve probably answered my own question. Could it be that he waited for the perfect script to come along, so that he could showcase his talents for the better? Or was he just getting bored? Either way Vampire Cop Ricky or Heubhyeol hyeongsa na Do-yul as it’s known back home is a very average piece of work. It did manage to remain one of the top ten grossing films at the Seoul box office during its run throughout early 2006 though, which is about the best it could hope for. Incidentally I have no idea why the overseas title is known as such (aside from being catchy of course): there is no mention of any Ricky, which is most perplexing.
The story begins in Transylvania. Dracula has awoken from his sleep and he’s pretty mad. While he looks around the walls of his mansion a mosquito suddenly lands on his neck and manages to get a decent sized meal before leaving the enraged count and heading skyward. The mosquito successfully flees Transylvania by sticking itself to the window of a Korean air liner, before stowing away on the back of a DHL lorry heading to Seoul. Meanwhile homicide cop Nah Do-yul (Kim Su-roh), alongside his boss Inspector Kang (Jeon Ho-jin) has been investigating a murder case. They’re soon about to crash an illegal Cyber Horse Racing establishment run by Mr. Tack (Son Byung-ho), but a tip off ensures that the den is cleared well in advance of their arrival. The police realise that there’s a corrupt cop on force and set out to capture him. Little do they know that it’s Do-yul who has been helping Tack in exchange for money.
On his way home Do-yul, in a worrisome daze, luckily swerves out of the path of an oncoming DHL lorry. When he gets out of his car an argument ensues and one of the drivers opens the lorry door for some reason, letting out the beastly mosquito. Sure enough it lands on Do-yul’s neck and plants a nice kiss on it. Feeling sick, Do-yul heads back home and rests; the next morning he wakes up with a boner, heads to the bathroom and sees that he now owns a nice set of gnashers and a pair of yellow eyes. Not sure what to think he lets it go, but he soon realises that every time he becomes sexually aroused he turns into a vampire. The pressure on Do-yul’s life begins to escalate when his girlfriend Yeon-hee (Jo Yeo-jeong) is caught up in the midst of his troubles while he tries to keep his secret safe. Seeking help he goes to a church where the priest gives him the number of a “friend” (Oh Kwang-rok), who happens to be a vampire hunter. After a not so friendly encounter the priest tells Do-yul that he has a chance of becoming human again, as long as he doesn’t drink living human blood and he slays all known vampires. Soon enough the pair join forces and Do-yul vows to correct his mistakes by taking on Tack and his men, while the Seoul police try hunt him down.
The premise for Vampire Cop Ricky is actually very interesting. The idea that Dracula’s power can be transferred to any human via a mosquito makes for a unique take on the vampire genre, and lord knows we need one after persevering with plenty of dull flicks surrounding it for years; and as the promotional campaign would have you believe the film should also be very funny because of this. However it’s not to be the case here because we’ve another situation that sees a director torn between genres. Is the film supposed to be an all out comedy, a melodrama, or a thriller? Sometimes these elements can be successfully combined, but at other times all they do is distract the viewer. The film starts off promisingly enough; we’re given a nice idea of how silly and fun things are going to be but then Si-myung suddenly ignores the potential comedic aspect that it has. Granted there are situational moments that are chucklesome at best, including a fun training scene followed by Do-yul’s first exposure to sunlight, while others try to raise laughs through knob gags or leering shots of women’s shapely breasts and exposed arses. It does work on occasion, but the reality is that it’s all the film has to fall back on time and again. More so the director heads into dramatic territory where we eventually see a story about a man trying to make things right, which is then used to create several moments that are all too signposted for us. Yes I’m talking about the clichéd twist scenario: good guy with gal, baddie hates good guy; girl gets kidnapped, best friend cops, rivalry and so on. You get my drift. Of course there are aspects in which Si-myung handles things fairly well, namely the betrayal of trust between Do-yul and Kang and their eventual heart to heart, along with the whole metaphorical device being the mask that Do-yul wears, suggesting that he hides behind something that he doesn’t need.
If anything Vampire Cop Ricky looks nice. 2009’s strength was in its wonderful production values; Si-myung certainly knows how to present a film. Although Vampire Cop Ricky is nowhere near as ambitious it does show some nice work in the way of set design. More noticeable this time around is that the CG effects work easily outshines that of his debut feature, although here its use is far more subtle, which is when CG works best of all in any film. The director does tend to fall back on previous mistakes though, directing the film in a reminiscently choppy manner, with fight sequences only showing the slightest glimmer of invention and plenty of close ups which are presumably meant to prompt some kind of response from the viewer. Elsewhere the city of Seoul is nicely captured through wide panoramic shots, with its more intimate neon setting providing a decent backdrop for Do-yul to be chased around.
Kim Su-roh, an actor who I admire for his comedic capabilities, has never had a decent starring role. He’s often played supporting characters, and good ones at that. As far as starring vehicles go Vampire Cop Ricky isn’t the film that will push him into the stratosphere. It’s quite sad in fact because in the past the actor has done some great stuff, from playing the pumped up Yu Bee-ho in Kim Ji-wun’s The Foul King and the crazed Jang in Volcano High to his funny, parodying turn in Fun Movie, based upon the hit film Shiri in which he also happened to have a small role in. With his latest film he merely has moments with which to project his style of comedy effectively. For the most part this entails some great reactionary poses - that’s when things are good. When things are bad Si-myung has him channelling Bruce Lee during several fight sequences, which soon becomes unbearable, what with all the squealing that ends up squeezing the life out of the joke. Su-roh shouldn’t be pushed too hard in his films, but be allowed to improvise far greater and know when to pull back a gag at the right moment. Having said that, the actor is given more to do than just providing physical comedy. He’s not a half bad dramatic actor, something which is required of him here multiple times. While I’d challenge the tone of the film and say that there’s just not enough fun injected into it Kim Su-roh manages to admirably tackle most of his character’s traits well. It’s just unfortunate that the script is lazy on gags and not more befitting for the man.
As for support there’s nothing overtly awful about the actors here, they’re simply playing familiar parts with which they do sound jobs. Son Byung-ho’s Mr. Tack is decidedly homosexual and slightly camped up, though he’s ruthless enough to not be totally pigeon holed as a stereotypical bad guy, while Jo Yeo-jeong is far more susceptible to this, having to play the girlfriend who is waiting for a hero to save her. Jeon Ho-jin and Oh Kwang-rok provide good support, with the latter being very undeveloped however. There’s something very suggestive about Vampire Cop Ricky and some of its supporting characters; it feels as if a sequel could be on the horizon, where the main established players could go on to bigger things. As it currently stands there isn’t a great enough working relationship between some characters, which leaves open future possibilities. If that should happen then Lee Si-myung needs to take a step back.
enterOne isn’t exactly known for producing shoddy DVDs; it’s amongst the best currently working in South Korea. Vampire Cop Ricky is presented as a 2-disc special edition featuring some very nice artwork, though something which gives a false lead as to the overall tone of the film. Contained within the slip case are two fold out digi-packs, each containing more eye-catching artwork and notes in Korean.
Vampire Cop Ricky is presented in an anamorphic aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Marred by Edge Enhancement, aliasing and contrast boosting it is far from perfect. It is totally watchable though: a nice progressive transfer with fine amounts of detail, though slightly soft during wide shots, and pleasing colours. It’s pretty much what we’ve come to expect and there’s very little else to elaborate on.
Curiously there’s no DTS option, but DD2.0 and 5.1 Surround. The 5.1 track is very lively and there’s often something designed to utilise the surrounds. The mosquito at the start makes a really annoying buzzing sound, but in a good way. It really does feel like one is by you ear, which is horrible…but good. There’s a nice amount of ambient effects, including weather changes and scenes with passing cars, while dialogue is tip top.
Optional English and Korean subtitles are provided. The English subs are well timed and free from any major grammatical errors. There are a few spelling errors, but these are so obvious and easy to work out that there’s very little to worry about.
Disc 1 contains an audio commentary only, leaving disc 2 to carry the main features. First up on menu one is a making of (23.57) which goes behind the scenes to look at wardrobe and make-up, rehearsals, stunts and on-location shoots, with a few interviews popping up throughout with cast and crew members. Next we have a piece looking at blue screen work (13.46) as the crew shoots the final scenes that are to be in the film. It then moves on to CG effects which includes creating Dracula’s mansion. There’s a look at some of the wire work, along with some moments of japery. The third feature is an interview with Son Byung-ho which includes several clips from the film (8.40). Following on from this is NG & AD Lib (8.56). This is a collection of bloopers and outtakes which are quite funny, despite my having no understanding of the language. It’s more the cast and crew reactions that make them fun. We see Kim Su-roh doing quite a bit of add-libbing, which would be nice to understand through subtitles. Deleted Scenes are next (10.36). These are time-coded and are of fairly low quality; some of the scenes are alternate takes or extended, while others contain some gags and brief character development.
Going on to the next menu we start with the shooting of the film’s promotional campaign (4.11), which consists of many of the images we see on the DVD packaging. It does come across as being a fun shoot. Next is a moving still gallery (4.14) which shows behind the scenes photographs during filming, the promo campaign and more intimate shots of the actors and crew at work. Curiously we get another behind the scenes of the promo campaign shoot (3.52), presumably a different day as the set ups are now different. Interviews with Kim Su-roh are bizarrely sped up here, making him sound like a chipmunk. A non-anamorphic theatrical trailer follows, which is of generally low quality. This seems to happen all the time; I’m not quite sure why Korean trailers always look awful. They must just pull them from tape. A look at the film’s premier screening (4.09) is up next, with introductions from director and cast, where we see huge celebs such a Lee Byung-hyun join the audience, followed by quick reactions. A music video featuring clips of the film is next and finally a more comical teaser trailer.
Vampire Cop Ricky is an odd blend of comedy, action and drama, neither of which are truly outstanding. As it works its way toward becoming a superhero film, complete with stock, clichéd characters, it begins to stray further and further from its initial promise. Director Lee Si-myung has made a better film than 2009: Lost Memories, occasionally providing some aesthetically pleasing shots and brief doses of humour, but on the whole his latest film is decidedly lazy and average, and not even its delectable cast can elevate it beyond that.