Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Exorcist Master – review


Directed by: Ma Wu

Release Date: 1993

Contains spoilers

On the surface this film looks very much like many other Hong Kong vampire movies, featuring primarily kyonsi vampires, some kung fu, some slapstick. Add into the mix a side story with a ghost (albeit dealt with early on). However it has an important feature that most do not have, it merges Eastern and Western mythology, it features Christianity and Taoism, and, finally, it ends up with a most unusual vampire kill at the climax.

The film begins in a Christian church with a Western priest. A storm rages and the figure of Christ bleeds from the eyes. He runs from the church and implores to God to help him and the cross atop the church breaks away and spears him, in a scene reminiscent of the Omen.

Moon and StarTime moves on and A-Chiou (Ching-Ying Lam) is peeing against the door of the disused church. We see his young disciples, Star (Collin Chou) and Moon, searching for him. Meanwhile David, the son of the mayor (Wing Cho-Yip), is offering to buy the tea-house owner’s cellar at a reduced price – it is allegedly haunted. When A-Chiou comes into the tea house, the owner implores him to help by exorcising the cellar. He refuses.

AnnyAnny, a beautiful young woman, returns to the town. Star is obviously smitten and much of the slapstick, plus some sea-side postcard humour, centres around his desire for the young lady. However she is uninterested, all her attention focused on David. We cut to monks walking down the road. Unbeknown to their master Star and Moon offer to cleanse the cellar.

ghostly attackThe ritual they are performing is fake, they are trying to scam some money. However they manage to call up the ghost – that of a young woman who was raped and murdered. This leads to a madcap fight, culminating on the ghost blowing at Star and causing him to go unconscious. He is taken into the coffin when the Taoist master appears. He has to fight Star, as the young man is possessed, and drive the ghost from him.

Ma Wu as Priest WuWe see images of a vampire shepherd leading kyonsi and then the monks arriving at the church. The monks want to reopen the church but A-Chiou objects. The situation is taken to the mayor and he agrees it reopening, despite the Taoist warning of an evil within. For quite a while the film then concentrates on the rivalry between A-Chiou and Priest Wu (Ma Wu), the catholic priest. What neither realise is that David and the mayor have arranged for the reopening of the church so that A-Chiou might be discredited. They are working with the vampire shepherd, whose kyonsi are fake, and using the ‘vampires’ to smuggle drugs.

Unfortunately the body of the priest from the beginning of the film is in the church cellar, still impaled. When Wu has the cross removed he is revived as a real vampire and soon the town is full of the creatures.

first victimThe film owes much to the exorcist for a scene when his first victim is being long distance exorcised by A-Chiou, spinning head, levitation and much spewing goes on. However there is some unique lore and to look at that I must spoil the end of the film.

the head vampireA-Chiou is fighting the vampire and he seems very Western in appearance. All A-Chiou's Taoist tricks fail and then Wu pushes him back with a crucifix. When cornered the vampire begins to act like a kyonsi and suddenly the cross doesn’t work. It appears that the vampire is a hybrid of the two mythologies and cannot be effected by the weapons of one mythology when in the mode of the other.

Ching-Ying Lam as A-ChiouThe fight culminates with A-Chiou holding his wooden sword. Wu blesses it with holy water and it glows. Wu has a cross that A-Chiou puts a prayer scroll on and it glows. The two rival priests then work together to defeat the beast. I cannot think of another film where religious co-operation is needed to defeat the vampire and it is this unique element that makes this film worth watching.

attack on AnnyOther than that it is a competent Hong Kong vampire movie. The effects aren’t brilliant but the roughness of the print actually hides a lot of the worst sins. I liked the four bite marks appearing on the victims necks, however, indicating a top and bottom set of fangs. The subtitling is in both English and Chinese and both sets are embedded, which is annoying. Seperate subtitle tracks people, please. The comedy works a lot better than many of these types of films, thanks in many respects to Collin Chou who comes across as very personable. I return, however, to the unique aspect of the ending and offer the film 5.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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