Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Vamp or Not? Shaolin Vs The Evil Dead


With a title containing the phrase ‘The Evil Dead’ you would be forgiven for asking why I am doing a ‘Vamp or Not?’ feature on this film. After all ‘The Evil Dead’ is one of the most famous zombie film series and, whilst this has nothing to do with Raimi’s series, one would automatically think zombie.

Then we get to the back of the DVD box and read, “When the immortal king of the vampires (Kit Cheung) is accidentally reawakened…” and this, obviously, caught my eye.

So is it a vampire movie? Strangely we do begin with a procession of kyonsi, the hopping vampires made famous in films such as Mr Vampire. They are being led by the priest Gordon Liu as Brother WhiteBrother White (Gordon Liu) and his assistants Sun (Jacky Woo) – who offers the slapstick comedic relief – and the young boy Fire (Shi Xiao-Hu). Although these are most definitely, to look at, kyonsi in the film’s dialogue they are referred to as zombies. However, there is some cross-over between zombies and vampires in the way kyonsi are portrayed in the various Hong Kong movies, plus the dialogue in this is dubbed and the translation for the dubbing is often suspect (at one point the prayer scrolls that are placed on the foreheads of the kyonsi are referred to as voodoo paper – really mismatching myths).

The film actually changes some of the reasoning behind how kyonsi behave. Traditionally kyonsi hop because rigor mortis has made them stiff. In this Brother White says they hop because he makes them do so. They are quite capable of walking but if they are hopping then they are kept too busy to cause trouble. When asked why they have their arms outstretched it is said that it is to keep a distance between each one so that they do not trip over each other.

When it looks like it might rain, Brother White stores his kyonsi and the three look for a restaurant. The restaurant seems odd but the two assistants are happily eating when Brother White enters.Haunted Village He casts a spell so that he might see and realises that the noodles are maggots and all the staff and patrons are dead. These dead are more like zombies, rotting with only magic making them look alive. It seems they are in a haunted village or village of the dead. Cue big fight sequence. The fight sequence gives us three main plot points. Brother White stops the dead by pulling their souls into spirit eggs. He then uses these spirit eggs to release the souls and enable the dead to move on later in the film.

The next plot point is the fact that Fire accidentally swallows a spirit egg which leads, later in the film, to possession, a distending stomach and then, right towards the very end of the film, Fire birthing the spirit (whilst on the toilet) as a young boy. This spirit child is referred to as Egghead and proves to be a most unfunny and annoying character.

The final plot point is that they are rescued by Brother Black (Louis Fan) and his assistant Moon (Shannon Voh). Louis Fan as Brother BlackBlack destroys the spirits of the dead rather than helping them and is referred to as White’s brother, though I think that is more to do with a religious order thing. I say this because Black is jealous that White became head of their order, subsequently leaving it, and, whilst all the assistants refer to the two masters as uncle, he states at one point that he was the previous head of the order’s only son and should have been next in line.

There is, through the film, a blossoming romance between Sun and Moon, curtailed because of their masters and the deep-seated need in Black to oppose White.

midget zombieBlack resurrects a midget zombie in order to convince some villagers that they are in danger; this was a zombie earlier laid to rest by White. When the zombie is let loose it sucks the blood from all the livestock leaving two fang marks in each carcass. Again we have a zombie/vampire crossover. Black then catches the creature he has let loose and destroys it in front of the villagers making them trust him. Black ends up using black magic to try and con the village out of their valuables and casts a dark spell which takes over the virgin boys of the village transforming them into the ‘virgin army’.

mini kyonsi summons batBlack and White confront each other in a game of phantom chess, Black uses the virgin army which now look like kyonsi and White uses paper warriors. There is some summoning of creatures, including a very vampire like bat – but this is throwaway. As the child kyonsi are defeated they revert back to the human forms and White triumphs. Defeated, Black then breaks into the forbidden area of the ancestral tomb of the village and accidentally awakens the King of the Vampires.

Vampire King awakensI say that but the film never refers to the creature as King of the Vampires and we see little of his powers. This is due to the biggest problem with the film. It is only half a film. From what I can gather director Douglas Kung was enamoured with the format of the Kill Bill films and wanted to make a two part story. The film ends abruptly after Black manages to stop the King and then becomes possessed by his spirit. What seems to have been missed is the fact that both parts of Kill Bill can be watched independently, I don’t think this can be – or at least it suffers if you try. The end credits have a trailer sequence of scenes from the second film, that certainly makes it look like there is going to be an army of Kyonsi on the march in the second film. That said there is no sign, as of yet, of a release of film number 2.

Shannon Voh as MoonThe dubbing is not great, but is functional. One wonders why the DVD has English dubbing only and yet also has English subtitles. I for one would have liked to see the film in its original language with subtitles. Some of the sfx work well and, though we can tell they are cgi, they are not obtrusive. The scene where the restaurant, at the beginning of the film, is forced back to its proper, decayed, form from its illusionary opulence is very impressive. There is some great slapstick, as one would expect from a Hong Kong movie, but some of the jokes – surrounding peeing, penis size and a young boy birthing a spirit child in an exploding toilet fell flat to this viewer. The biggest issue, as I said, is the fact it has only half a story and this makes me glad that I decided to do a ‘Vamp or Not?’ as any review score would have suffered because of the lack of conclusion (and no sign of the sequel despite this film’s release being in 2004).

The Vampire KingIs it vampire? If I had to rely on the King of the Vampires I would have to say no, there is no indication that he is anything other than dead. The midget zombie’s habit of sucking blood from livestock is more like it, though I can’t help but think of overtones of the chupacabra. I am going to go for vampire, however, because of the presence of the kyonsi – even if they call them zombies. They are the traditional Chinese vampire form. That said, I wouldn’t bother watching this until (and if) the second part is released – they really will need to be watched back to back.

The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

According to IMDb, there was a sequel to this film - and it came out in 2006. Check out the IMDb entry here.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Anthony, you are quite correct - though that wasn't known at time of review. However the term sequel should be tempered with the fact that it, for the majority of the film, had nothing to do with this film.

See my write up here

Anonymous said...

Ah, cheers for that.

I must've overlooked your other review, as I came across this one more recently as a link following from a more recent blog post.

I hope I'm not out of line, but put it this way - Hong Kong sequels don't tend to have much narrative continuity in general!

See: the Mr. Vampire series (which I know you've already covered), so I sort of view it in that light. As bizarre as it might seem to us Westeners.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Anthony - you are right, often they have little to do with the previous film. In this case, I fear, it is worse because:

1. This film is only half a film story wise
2. They obviously had the inital footage shot, shoehorn it into the sequel and then film an entirely different story!

It has left the film incomplete and rather bizarre/confusing