Film review: Keeper of Darkness – Nick Cheung enthrals as a gangster exorcist
This effects-driven adventure retains a welcome touch of deadpan humour, and shows Cheung has come a long way as a director since his 2014 debut
If you have a genre mishmash that goes from exorcism drama to gangster comedy to zombie horror to supernatural romance, you need a charismatic lead to guide the audience through the bumpy ride. Having proven his acting credentials with two best actor wins at the Hong Kong Film Awards (in 2009 and 2014), Nick Cheung Ka-fai looks ready to cement his place – and does so with aplomb in this much improved follow-up to Hungry Ghost Ritual, his 2014 directorial debut.
Family tragedies strike in multiple ways in Keeper of Darkness. Since losing his single mother (Karena Lam Ka-yan) nearly 40 years ago, Fatt (Cheung) has been determined to become streetwise. Blessed with the paranormal talent to communicate with ghosts, the kid has grown up to be an unorthodox exorcist who negotiates with malicious spirits like he’s a triad boss, while also taking care of the benevolent ones wandering the streets as if he’s a social worker.
But when two of the ghosts he banishes turn out to be a particularly vengeful father-and-daughter pair, Fatt must find a way to stop the blood feud from rolling on. At his service is an aspiring protege, Chung (Louis Cheung Kai-chung), and a cute journalist, Ling (Sisley Choi Si-pui), although Fatt already has all the underworld assistance he could use, anyway: since he was a kid, the loner has been sharing a run-down flat with the ghost of a beautiful mistress, Cherr (Amber Kuo Tsai-chieh).
As Fatt traverses different dimensions to investigate the grudges of his antagonists, Keeper of Darkness goes on an effects-driven adventure that hints at Cheung’s diverse horror movie influences, while often retaining a welcome touch of deadpan humour. Though it ultimately runs out of steam with an unconvincing romance between Fatt and Cherr, Cheung has obviously done enough to set himself – as well as other stars in surprise cameos – up for a sequel.
Keeper of Darkness opened on November 26