Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Vampire who Admires Me – review

coverDirected by: Cub Chien

Release date: 2008

Contains spoilers

This is an odd one in that it uses the traditional kyonsi and yet throws in a Western horror sensibility (most notably, I thought, borrowing from the zombie genre in tone) as well as throwing in a more traditionally Hong Kong cinema sense of humour. It is a horror comedy and yet something seems a little off.

It begins with a voice over that tells us a man has both a spirit and a soul and these tend to be opposites. If the soul is good then the spirit is evil, if the soul clever then the spirit is stupid. When a man dies and his soul departs, should the spirit be left it might become a ghost or vampire especially if they are not buried correctly. Vampires will attack their family and pass on the curse. This was all interesting, a duality that is very alien to Western tradition as, if I am interpreting the supposition correctly, then a good, intelligent person could become a stupid, evil vampire. Virtue is turned on its head. As things stand I don’t think the reference to ghosts stands up to the sub-text within the rest of the film, however.

hand grabs JillWe then see a couple, Victor (Ben Cheung) and Jill (Angel Ho), out at night – on Last Dragon Island, we later hear – and getting frisky. Jill stops him as she thinks someone is watching. It is old master or, at least, a photo of him that adorns the grave they are on. Victor covers the photo. Jill somehow cuts herself and the blood drips through the grave awakening the occupant within. A hand grabs Jill’s leg and pulls her into the earth, it manages to scratch Victors leg.

Macy (Jia Xiaochen) has just woken up. She asks her grandmother (Li Feng) why she didn’t wake her, at that moment her friend Bibi (Ankie Black) arrives. They are both models and are due on the ‘zombie shoot’. Their boss, King (Samuel Pang), has hired Taiwanese up and coming super model Chelsea (Natalie Meng) for the shoot. As they leave Macy leaves incense at a shrine, which is clearly for her grandmother.

glimpse of the ghost in the stallIt becomes readily apparent that Macy sees dead people. She has always been able to see ghosts and treats them with respect. We get unusual lore like the idea that you should never use the last stall in a public toilet as that is the one that ghosts prefer. Cub Chien uses this as a way of ramping some atmosphere into the film in a quite j-horror sort of way, though it is unfortunately too little. Obviously Macy’s ‘6th sense’ comes into play later but, depressingly, only so much as it allows them to discover what the vampire killing lore is.

Natalie Meng as ChelseaAt the shoot it becomes clear that Chelsea is a prima donna who is late, has a couple of overweight hangers-on (Fatty and Patty) and manages to wrap people around her little finger, especially King who wants to sleep with her. There is a ‘comedy’ sub-story about her and her agent Kimchi (Winnie Lueng) both trying to sleep with King and both wanting to get pregnant as it will set them up for life (he inherited $20 billion US dollars).

the studio shootThe shoot is not going to well as photographer Roman (Sam Lee) – who himself has a thing for King – is not feeling the shoot. He wants something with decay and decadence and suggests King’s villa on Last Dragon Island. Indeed, we are to discover, it was King’s great grandfather’s grave where the earlier vampiric activity early occurred. Macy’s grandmother feels something is very wrong, but Macy is under contract.

meeting the new bossLater, on Last Dragon Island... The approaching yacht is observed by two of the local cops, Wayne (Kwok Chun On) and Mann (Siu Fay). With close to retirement cop Uncle Fay (Ha Yu) they make up the police force, whose main job seems to be arresting local guy, Uncle Pine (Wong Tin Lam), for peeing on the police HQ steps whenever he wants a hot meal! The police are clearly a comedy element – and there is some fall back on staples such as fart/poo gags, unfortunately. Regrettably, for the cops, travelling on the yacht is their new boss Madame Chui (Jo Koo) – a hard hitting Hong Kong cop, who wants some action in the rural backwater and sends them looking for the missing Jill.

Macy sees dead peopleOf course Victor is becoming a vampire (it is later his ghost who tells Macy the vampire killing rules, so his spirit becomes a vampire but his soul becomes a ghost – this is why I said the voice over aspect, at the head of the film, re ghosts seemed out of synch with the story) and Jill is a vampire, who is vampirising others. Soon the island is overrun, a typhoon has cut them off and the vampire King (both Wong Wai Tong and Chang Yung Cheung) is due to rise.

flashback to suicideThe Great Grandfather became a vampire when one of the familial line drove, through greed, a family to despair. One of the family killed herself over the grave and cursed him to vampirism as a revenge on the King family. Luckily a Feng Shui master managed to bury him and trap him, but if the tomb were disturbed (for instance by having rumpy pumpy on it or photoshooting models on it…)

reminiscent of Night of the Living DeadThe lore we get is basic kyonsi lore, however most of the vampires do not act like kyonsi. Early on they seem to buzz just off screen kind of like something between a new (fast) zombie movie and j-horror. Later they seem to stumble along in an original Romero zombie sort of way and there is a scene that is standard to that genre with grabbing through windows etc.

a vampire hand through the stomachHowever the lore we get states that they cannot see and zone in on breath. They do not like sunlight. A Thai spell talisman that Mann has might ward them for a while, as will black dog’s blood (which steams like Western holy water when they are hit with it) but the only way to kill them is to burn them or putthe vampire king a wooden sword through the heart (which later becomes any wooden stake). Sticky rice might cure a non-turned infected person and some vampires retain their memories – hence the vampire who admires me, but I won’t say which vampire or who is admired.

he's behind youThe problem is, this shouldn’t work. The comedy is sub-par and the acting poor. To be fair most of the girls are actually models rather than actresses. There is a move away from using mystical means to combat the kyonsi – the feng shui master is mentioned but there is no Taoist or Buddhist priest to save the day – and a move towards survival horror, but survival in bikinis and bath robes!

ill fitting fangsThe script kind of stumbles along from one set piece to another, rather like the shambling zombie-like kyonsi, whose fangs, incidentally, are ill fitting. Yet somehow it does work and strays to an above average area. The reason; Cub Chien and his direction. He takes the film and makes more of it than there should be. I’d love to see some work by him with decent script and professional actors. 5.5 out of 10. At the time of review there was no IMDB page.

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