Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Amazing Stories – review


Directed by: Kam Ngo Fan

First released: 1993 (according to DVD)

Contains spoilers

This is a film of three unrelated episodes, without a portmanteau element, from China and, to me, that makes it quite unusual in itself. Obviously, because I am reviewing this, one part is vampiric in nature.

That part is the second section and it, like all the others, is a period piece in style with an erotic overtone to it. The first section is about a woman who is the victim of domestic violence and who is saved by a doll, possibly possessed by the spirit of her brother, although possibly just alive in its own right.

The third section is about a woman who cheats on her husband and then murders him but gets her comeuppance. There is an almost Tales of the Unexpected quality to this tale and it includes one of the most cringe making scenes I have seen for some time, even though you see nothing really, when the woman self aborts her pregnancy.

child with satayHowever, it is the second tale that we are concerned with as it is vampiric in nature. It also contains a rather unusual vampire, for Chinese cinema at least. It begins, however, innocuously enough with a young boy walking along carrying wood and eating what looked like a satay skewer. He hears a noise and finds a creature in a cage.

The reason I say creature is because the DVD blurb suggested a fox, though the colouration of the creature looked more badger to me (though thinner than the UK domestic variety). Was it a fox, quite possibly as fox-spirits are a known quantity in Chinese mythology, however the blurb isn’t that accurate in other respects.

the gravemanAnyway, having released the fox the boy is hit and knocked unconscious by a hunter. He is cut on the cheek but that night something comes to him and breathes upon the cut, healing the child. We cut forward and the child is a man, a scar on his cheek, and he performs a ritual in a graveyard before he starts to chop at a coffin.

the vampireAs we see him start to pull bones from the coffin and place them in a jar we inter-cut with a man and woman together. They are having sex when she sprouts fangs and begins to bite his neck. We get a very stylishly shot scene of them rutting as they are covered in his blood and, eventually, he is left as a bloodied corpse.

meetingThe scarred man hears a screech and investigates. He sees a woman sat, sobbing and we see it is the vampire. She says she was travelling when she met robbers and intimates that she is injured. He carries her to his home. Once there we see, in case we were in any doubt, that she is the vampire when she shuts a door by telekinesis.

vampire bitesShe asks him why he collects bones and he is doing it because people are leaving the area and do not wish to leave their ancestors. What we then get is a subtle dance of seduction by the woman, which includes him manoeuvred into sucking poison from her leg injury. Eventually the man and woman do become intimate and at that point she bites him. As soon as she does a spirit flies through the trees outside, into his home and attacks the vampire.

showing a true faceThe attack causes the vampire to show her true face and she is older than she first appeared. What we then get is some very unusual lore for vampires, though in truth it has been unusual already. The woman, at first looked and acted more like a Chinese ghost but had the fangs of a vampire. The fact that she had retractable fangs and drank blood was more Western, certainly she was no kyonsi, or hopping vampire.

When the fox-spirit, for it is she, and the vampire fight the spirit calls the vampire a witch – though that might have been a mistranslation in subtitles that, to be fair, where not fantastically produced. However the connection between witches and vampires was a strong one in Western tradition.

The spirit demands to know why the vampire would attack the scarred man the vampire replies that they were lovers 300 years before (we have seen a picture that resembles the pair) and that they were supposed to die together – he did not die with her. She cannot be reborn and hates the fact that he can be. This is reminiscent of the Dan Curtis’ reincarnated lover storyline which has impacted the genre since he introduced the concept, though with a retributory twist. I wish we had been given more on this.

the fox spiritThe fox counters by saying that he saved her life some thirty years ago and that by drinking his blood the vampire also drinks his ‘spirit blood’. This was a little confused down to both the subtitling and the fact that it wasn’t explored in depth. I took this to be the breath that healed his childhood wound had somehow infused him or conjoined him with the essence of the fox spirit. To attack him was to attack her.

staked and in the sunThe death of the vampire is, again, quite Western in execution (if you pardon the pun). The fox spirit impales her on a rather large stake of wood, which holds her in place until the dawn comes and she dies in the sunlight, leaving just a crumpled pile of clothes. This has none of the usual lore we see with kyonsi based films, no prayer scrolls or sticky rise, simply impale to hold and add sun to purify. Interestingly, given the statement that she couldn’t be reborn, her image vanishes from the picture of her and the scarred man.

This was interesting and yet, because of this, it was frustrating. The episode could have been much longer and explained the lore in much more detail. This forces the section (remembering that I am only scoring the vampire episode) down to a score of 4.5 out of 10. The film as a whole scores higher.

The imdb page is here.

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