Friday, November 21, 2008

Chinese Vampire Story – review

dvdDirector: Ricky Lau

Release date: 1992

Contains spoilers

The confusing thing about this film is that it is known as Mr Vampire 5. Then there is the film Magic Cop, which is also known as Mr Vampire 5 and was subject to a ‘Vamp or Not?’ a little while ago. As far as I know, the earlier Magic Cop is widely viewed as the authentic Mr Vampire 5 – despite a lack of vampires and the fact that Ricky Lau directed the other 4 Mr Vampire movies but not Magic Cop. Hmmm… confusing…

holy childrenUnlike Magic Cop this does have kyonsi (Chinese hopping vampires) in it – though they seem somewhat weaker than perhaps in other titles – we’ll get to that, and the ever changing kyonsi lore, later. However I would say that, whilst a major part of the film, the kyonsi are a foil and the main direction is a plot surrounding holy babies. Holy babies are the spirits of children who died, mainly, stillborn. As well as these are those who were aborted and such can become evil spirits due to their hatred of humanity.

Lam Ching Ying as Mr LamMr Lam (Lam Ching Ying) has a whole shrine of holy babies and, in an early scene, we see the mischievous but good holy babies get their revenge on his disciples Chiu Sang (Siu-hou Chin) and Man Choi (Ricky Hui) for conning them into doing tasks. This involves one peeing on Man Choi’s face whilst another stretches Chiu Sang’s private bits… it is truly odd.

Lam sends the holy babies to local exorcist Birdie (Sandra Ng Kwan Yue), however she becomes distracted by her lust for Lam and a woman accidentally becomes possessed by one of the evil holy babies.

Billy Lau as General DragonMeanwhile Lam’s old flame Lin (Suki Kwan) calls for him to see her husband General Dragon (Billy Lau) as he is ill. It turns out that the General’s father has become kyonsi and has bitten him and it is here we start getting new lore – I should mention the main plot of the film is that Lin is pregnant and the possessed woman has become her companion, trying to have the evil holy baby born through her.

coffin opens - but only at nightAnyway, new kyonsi lore. Firstly we discover that a vampire’s coffin cannot be opened during the day. However the more important new lore is a new cure for vampirism. In the past we have seen sticky rice used as a cure and snake wine. In this we hear that to remove and powder a vampire’s fangs and make a potion of it is also a cure.

from the kyonsi villageI say that this is important as it bears a striking resemblance to traditional Eastern European lore where burning the vampire’s heart and mixing a potion with the ashes is meant to be a cure for vampirism. The attempt to get a cure with the father fails – and he is destroyed – and so the disciples have to go to a vampire village and here we discover that large fangs are a status symbol amongst kyonsi.

a stake'll do itAs for killing vampires it seems a wooden sword to the heart is good enough. Also they seem to back away when threatened with the more Western stake and mallet. It is clear that kyonsi hold a grudge – having stolen fangs from the village it seems that the entire village of kyonsi descend upon the heroes at the film’s climax.

General's father is a vampireThe humour in this is constant but lowbrow, for instance when fighting the first kyonsi the entire action is contrasted against an on-running diarrhoea joke. Thus the humour perhaps lets this down, it is not as subtle as some of the Hong Kong vampire films and for me failed to find the right balance between comedy and the action and horror (not that there is much of that).

All in all 4.5 out of 10, there are better Chinese vampire movies out there – that said there are also worse ones.

The imdb page is here.

2 comments:

ggymeta said...

traditional Eastern European lore where burning the vampire’s heart and mixing a potion with the ashes is meant to be a cure for vampirism.

Nah, we just made that up to boost tourism during the hey-day of the Orient Express. Thanks to Bram Stoker, no one was getting off the train at any of the Eastern European stops. :) j/k

In all seriousness, I never knew Hong Kong put out Vampire films. Is there a place you score some of them on DVD?

Taliesin_ttlg said...

ggymeta

there are a range of hong kong vamp movies and probably the best place to startis with Mr Vampire - cracking film and available on region 1 and 2 DVDs at most decent outlets.

In the series that followed from it only Mr Vampire 2 and 4 were actually vampire films.

Of course at this point I am talking kyonsi - the Chinese hopping vampire. Hong Kong did do more Western orientated vampires and the Twins Effect (aka the Vampire Effect) is a good example of a more Western orientated film.

For the more obscure Hong Kong titles YesAsia.com is probably the best bet (or ebay). The films are out there for Western consumption, however.