Joanna (Akemi Look) works two jobs: she’s a waitress at her father Harry’s (George Cheung) Chinese restaurant by day and a demon hunter after hours. Director Gorby Mufan Shih crafts a fun, fast-paced action comedy short with supernatural overtones in Love, Work and Other Demons. Based on Joanna’s double life, the short sets the stage for many more adventures in that world.
Joanna (AKA The Badass) has a temper that can reach the boiling point at either job, and it doesn’t help her that the ghosts of her grandfather and great-grandfather – who drop in regularly for family mahjong time – tease her about what guys like in women. When not engaging in ancestral gambling time, she takes her stress out on rude customers until it’s time for her real job.
Armed with a sword, her highly refined martial arts skills, and paper talismans, Joanna keeps her city safe from otherworldly baddies who attack random, defenseless victims. But what about the word “love” in the short film’s title? Joanna is torn about matters of the heart but Ryan (Matt Musgrove), a doctor who regularly dines at her restaurant, may help her see things differently – unless flirtatious waitress Samantha (London Vale) has something to say about it.
Love, Work and Other Demons is intended to be fun and funny rather than focusing on the terrifying aspects of its title beasts. The demonic creatures called Nightmare Bugs are shown to be violent but not in a graphically gory manner, though certainly Joanna and her foes get banged up and bloodied in their encounters. The ghosts on display are of the happy ancestral variety, not the evil entities often shown in horror films. There is another demon on hand but I won’t describe it because it would take us into spoiler territory.
Akemi Look is fantastic as Joanna, a young woman who is torn between many decisions, such as following her vision to continue slaying demons or giving in to her father’s wishes to settle down; keeping true to her personality or adapting it to attract a boyfriend; and so on. Look shows a wide range of emotions in her portrayal and pulls them all off stunningly, deftly balancing comic and dramatic scenes, as well as showing off marvelous physical skills in her fight scenes. She is a star in the making and a blast to watch, and this short is a great showcase for her.
The rest of the cast proves up to the task, too, especially big-screen and small-screen veteran George Cheung as Joanna’s wise and wise-cracking father Harry. This character provides a bridge between the foundations set by the family’s Chinese American ancestors and the modern world, providing some of Love, Work and Other Demon’s most touching moments. Craig Ng as great grandfather Feng Lam and Ping Wu as grandfather Wei Lam provide some comic moments ranging from bright to a bit broad. Matt Musgrove brings a goofy charm to his love-interest character, while London Vale also gets to stretch in her role.
Love, Work and Other Demons is chock full of visual cartoon-like and comic-book-style visual flourishes, with plenty of cartoonish sound effects, as well. This is a rather fitting choice by Gorby Mufan Shih – who cowrote the energetic screenplay with Sam Boyer – as the short has an animated-show-come-to-life vibe, adding to the fun of the proceedings.
The production values for Love, Work and Other Demons are all high quality and the special effects are admirable. The fight choreography is crackerjack and Joseph Varner’s sharp editing makes these sequences feel exciting. The practical makeup effects for all of the supernatural entities are well done. Tao Liu‘s score ranges from power chords to disco funk and beyond, always adding to what’s taking place onscreen.
Most importantly, Love, Work and Other Demons (www.demonsnevertip.com) has a huge heart. It is obvious that a lot of care and drive went into making this film. Although the short is screening at film festivals, it is also meant to serve as a television series pilot. Gorby Mufan Shih has created a winner here, and I would be thrilled to see more of his vision, this world, this cast, and these characters.
Love, Work and Other Demons: (4 / 5)