Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Jitters – review


Director: John Fasano

Release date: 1989

Contains spoilers

This film has not had a DVD release but it is still floating around on VHS and, to be fair, it is hardly surprising that it isn’t yet on DVD. This is a kyonsi movie, a Chinese hopping vampire. These are, of course, a staple of the Hong Kong movie scene. This was, however, a US/Japanese effort filmed in Canada.

It seems a little odd to have the kyonsi transplanted culturally like that, but I wasn’t willing to let that colour my judgement of the film. The inept quality of the film and some of its more discomforting aspects did that for me.

The film begins with illustrative plates of the city, with credits included, panned across and eventually, for all of a couple of seconds, an animated kyonsi hops across screen. We can see the lack of any eye for detail, on the part of the filmmakers, when the final plate is a street shot with cars and when it melts into the filmed location they hadn’t bothered drawing the cars in the same positions.

Alice and MichaelWe are in Chinatown and a group of thugs decide to smash up a toy stall outside the shop of Frank Lee (Randy Atmadja) and hassle his niece Alice (Marilyn Tokuda). Frank comes out and, despite being elderly, beats the three thugs. Alice’s boyfriend Michael (Sal Viviano) comes along and Frank sends them off for something. By the time they return the thugs have come back and Frank flies through a window – this kills him.

The two TonysThere is a funeral for Frank, watched from an alley by the thugs who are part of a gang run by Leach (Doug Silberstein). He is less than happy; killing the old man was sloppy but worse, he was rumoured to have a large stash of cash but they only got away with pocket change. The thugs are ordered back to the shop to get the stash. At the funeral Alice states that she will reopen Frank’s shop – though Michael is less than happy about the idea. When the mourners have left two men enter – Tony Sr (James Hong) and Tony Jr (John Quincy Lee) – they prepare a traditional Taoist prayer scroll – note the word Taoist.

the return of Uncle FrankAlison is in the shop with a customer when the thugs come back looking for Frank’s money. We see hopping over the road and suddenly Frank is there, and he is now Kyonsi. He attacks the thugs, throwing one through the re-glazed window, and the others make their escape. Frank then turns on Alice and has her cornered until Tony Jr appears and places a scroll on his forehead. Michael arrives and they go with Tony to his father’s magic store.

hidding from KyonsiThe father and son explain that they feared Frank would return as a kyonsi but he escaped before they had prepared him properly. It is explained that when you die you either ascend the dragon (go to heaven) or descend it (go to Hell) but a traumatic death can leave you unable to go up or down and you become kyonsi. They also explain that Chinatown is out of balance due to the gang activities – hence a lot of kyonsi are appearing – they have five more in storage. There is a lot of lore given for the viewer who might not have come across the kyonsi but Tony Sr also references Buddha. Now I mentioned the Taoist scroll before and the magicians wear Taoist robes, why they would reference Buddhism is beyond me as it is a separate religion. For an example of the different viewpoint of Buddhism and Taoism see Mr Vampire 4.

Andrea Roth is the gang galOf course the antics with Frank has been spotted by the so-credited Gang Gal (Andrea Roth) – she seemed the only competent gang member so not giving the character a name seemed silly. She reports back to Leach and though they don’t believe in vampires they do believe there is a way to get the money stash... Kyonsi are going to get loose again, you just know it.

I mentioned moments of discomfort (as a viewer) and I am not really sure what the scriptwriters were trying to do. On the one hand there are a lot of racial stereotypes and slurs, some from the gang – they call the kyonsi 'Count Chinkula' for instance – which would indicate that the script was saying it is wrong to racially slur as the bad guys are doing it. However Michael suggests that he is deemed as a ‘round eyes’ and Tony Sr makes a joke about a Chinese vampire – he bites you and wants to bite again in an hour – thus not limiting the negative dialogue to the bad guys. On the other hand the film did show interracial relationships, which was positive. I suggest that the script was just sloppy and poorly thought through.

out in daylightThe lore is a little mixed up as well. Whilst some of the kyonsi standards are there, we discover that Frank can go out in daylight – not normal kyonsi behaviour. In some of the Hong Kong films mirrors are used to combat vampires, but they tend to be of a specific Taoist design. When one of the gang members is bitten and returns as a kyonsi, his erstwhile cohorts discover that he fears his reflection in any old mirror.

uber-kyonsiOnce cornered the mirror harms him and then he kind of develops pustules and starts melting until some sort of uber-kyonsi rips from his skin. This would suggest that the mirror released a stronger evil but then a fresh mirror works on the uber-kyonsi, killing him. The gang reference taking mirrors to the final showdown and then none are used. I mentioned this to blog regular Crabstix and he wondered whether the mirror forces the kyonsi to face his inner evil, which is then released. Once released, the evil can then be destroyed by forcing the self-confrontation with another mirror. Not a bad theory but the film fails to offer any indication that this is the case.

a vampire victimThe acting is on the poor side and not even the ever-pleasant presence of James Hong can save this turkey from itself. As well as using the kyonsi the film tries to throw in a typically Hong Kong slapstick sequence that just doesn’t work and this further reveals the film to be a pale imitation of those it tries to emulate.

Not the best experience in the world but it was, at least, an attempt to bring the kyonsi to a more mainstream Western audience. 2 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


scary film reviewer said...

i recall the vhs box cover, i loved it, the movie though...not so much.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi SFR, the cover does have some level of cheesy charm, I grant you - the film, however... hmmm...

Thanks for popping by. I enjoyed your Los Meurtos write up, by the way