Friday, April 28, 2006

Mr Vampire - review

Director: Ricky Lau-Koon Wai

Release date: 1985

Contains spoilers
This is a movie that will not deliver your traditional Western style vampires, instead we have the traditional Chinese version. First thing to note is that they hop rather than walk, the next thing to note is that the traditional Western methods of dealing with the undead do not work (except for immolation), and methods such as prayer scrolls and the use of sticky rice is the order of the day.

Please note as I went to get an actors list from the internet, for the review, I noticed that many of the character names were different to those within the collector’s edition DVD subtitles, for example Uncle Kau is listed as Master Ko – I’ve used the net version of names.

The film begins with Man Chor (Ricky Hui Koon-Ying) attending to a mortuary. There is a collection of vampires within the mortuary and he is ensuring that the candles and incense needed to hold them immobile are in place. He places incense in the seal of a coffin but it is pushed back, when he investigates he is attacked by a vampire. Or so he thinks. Actually it is Chow Chun (Chin Siu Ho), dressed as a vampire, and playing a joke. Unfortunately, during their fight the prayer scrolls are knocked from the foreheads of the real vampires and real danger becomes readily apparent. Master Ko (Lam Ching Ying) and his associate (Anthony Chan Yau) who “owns” the vampires come in and deal with the vampires, paralysing them again.

Man Chor and Master Ko are then employed by millionaire Master Yam (Huang Ha) to dig up his father as he wishes to develop the land where he is buried. Master Ko realises that granddad Yam (Yuen Wah) has been buried incorrectly and is becoming a vampire. Man Chor, in the meantime, has developed a crush on Master Yam’s daughter Ting Ting (Moon Lee Choi Fung).

Granddad Yam does rise as a vampire and kills Master Yam. His nephew, inept police captain Wei (Billy Lau Nam-Kwong), blames Master Ko for the murder and arrests him ready to torture Master Ko for a confession. Master Ko has other things to worry about as Master Yam will rise as a vampire and is in the police station with them. Master Yam is eventually taken care of, but at the Yam house Granddad Yam has returned for Ting Ting. She is protected by Man Chor, but in the chaos he is bitten and the race is on to destroy Grandad Yam and prevent Man Chor from turning into a vampire. To make maters worse a beautiful ghost, Jade (Pauline Wong Siu Fung) has fallen in love with Chow Chun and his life is in peril.

The film is a fast paced movie filled with martial arts and comedy. Much of the comedy is slapstick and/or visual and is all at the level of farce. The film does this very well and be it as simple as a tamed hopping vampire having to be helped up a stair it can’t hop up or the long set up of Wei wanting to brand Master Ko with the word cutie and being accidentally branded himself by Chow Chun during the fight with Master Yam, it is all on the mark.

Western audiences might feel that the very different rules of the Chinese vampire would get in the way of the movie, but the film explains the rules very well and you never feel lost.

One of the stand-out scenes concerns Man Chor as they try to prevent him from turning into a vampire. He awakens and his nails have grown and he has become very pale. To belay suspicion he cuts away the nails and puts makeup on. Whilst very different in substance my mind was thrown to the equally funny scene with Sex Machine turning into a vampire in “From Dusk til Dawn” (1995) and trying to hide his condition. Given that the later film was co-written by Tarantino, and the fact that Tarantino is a big fan of Asian cinema, one wonders if there was any inspiration from “Mr Vampire”.

This is a movie that sucks you in and doesn’t let you escape until the final credits role. All in all 8.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


The Retropolitan said...

Now I'm going to have to re-watch this today.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

And well worth it, it is... welcome to the site