Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Bite of Love – review

dvdDirector: Stephen Shin

Release date: 1990

Contains spoilers

Sometimes expectations can work the opposite way one would expect. I had been told that this Hong Kong movie was really awful and went into it with my mind set to put up with a really awful movie. Now, it isn’t the best Chinese produced vampire movie, not by a long shot, but it is better than some of the efforts out there and I found myself not hating it quite as much as I would have thought.

The film begins in England and we get a montage of images introducing us to some of the primary characters. We see a Chinese man, only given the name Duke Lee’s Butler (Shiu Hung Lui), meet someone in order to pay bills – though he has little money. We see a man, a gangster named Fung (Norman Chu), leave hospital though he is still on saline and blood drips. the castleWe see a woman, Anna (Rosamund Kwan), in a gallery – she is Fung’s virtuous sister and it is her birthday. We see an orphan boy crying for he has lost money, being ripped off for his last ten pounds and having to steal flowers from a cemetery. We see the butler selling goods to make money and then spotting a woman who is knocked out with a football and finally we see a carriage head towards a large ramshackle castle.

proposed dinnerIn the castle is a coffin and in the coffin is our vampire – Duke Lee (George Lam). He is long haired – though in a gag that I didn’t particularly get his hair is a wig (of which he has a selection) and the butler’s grey hair is a wig also. He is also quite effete and is groomed by the butler before going to breakfast. The butler reveals the woman who struck by the football, a tempter for the vampire. But Duke Lee does not bite humans. The butler complains that blood is expensive to buy and they have no money. The small sherry glass of blood he offers the Duke has to last two days. The Duke goes out.

star crossed loversHe goes to his normal club but it is closed for a private function. Fung has hired it for Ann’s birthday – though the entertainment is clearly for him and his men. Lee sees Anna and falls for her instantly. However she also has an auspicious birth date and time (which, we discover later, means that a vampire drinking her blood will become a king vampire). Lee and Anna dance but he runs when he sees the cross she wears at her wrist.

fangs outHowever, the gangster is not happy with the other man’s presence. After Lee interferes with a knife stunt (essentially it was thrown at the orphan boy), Fung collapses. However, in the hospital, he sends his men after ‘the long-haired monster’. There is a resultant fight – with Lee using magic and not actually touching any of them – but during the melee the orphan boy (whom the gangsters had beaten to find Lee) is thrown out of a window. Lee tries to save him but the sunlight drives him back.

Rosamund Kwan as AnnaThe orphan is in hospital and has a rare blood type – the same as Fung. Fung has taken all the blood supply but Anna begs him for a bag. She takes it to the boy but Lee is there and has intravenously given the boy his blood (an act that will cause his magic to diminish irrevocably). The boy is well. Anna goes to tell her brother he can be cured and suggests that she ask the Duke for his help.

Norman Chu as FungThe Duke, the next night, turns up at Anna’s whilst she is bathing (a fact that seems to barely faze her). They spend time together and she asks if he will save her brother. He refuses because her brother is a bad man. Be that as it may, they kiss and the Duke has to fight his urge to bite her. He suddenly realises that there is something wrong with the orphan. The gangsters have drained blood off him to help their boss – it hasn’t worked – and now use him as bait to catch the Duke. After a chase he is caught, chained and shipped (along with the kid) to Hong Kong. Pretending that his fingers are a telephone he gets word to the butler – a case of telepathy to telephony.

just one dropHe ends up chained in the cellar with the kid. He admits to the orphan that he is a vampire. Rather than be afraid he sees it as a means of escape. Unfortunately the Duke is too weak. However, with Anna’s help and a drop (yes a single drop) from the kid they manage to get out of the cellar – though he will have to fight his way out – on the way out Fung is bitten and they have a problem of an evil vampire to contend with.

a book on vampiresThe lore is pretty mixed up. Obviously he is not a kyonsi so we should explore what Lee is. Anna meets Mr Tsang (Kan-Wing Tsang) in a laser disc (remember them?) store that is showing Fright Night - Tsang is renting that and Fright Night Part 2. He also happens to be an occult expert. Having checked that she is not a vampire he gives her a book that she looks through. The first vampire in it is a kyonsi, the next a Western vampire. The one she stops at he calls a mixed vampire and, one assumes, is like the vampire in Exorcist Master.

The mixed vampire is scared of the cross and of bright light. Tears of sincerity are lethal to it (which has a nice twist at the end, which I won’t spoil). The blood of a mixed vampire heals, as we have seen, and it is only the bite which will turn another. The turning takes twenty four hours – during which time, if the biting vampire is killed the victim is saved. If the victim is a child, the child will not turn until 18 – odd but there you go.

failing to stakeA stake through the heart will kill a mixed vampire – this leads to a fairly effective comedy scene with Anna trying to stake her brother before he turns fully. He is under the bed and she finds herself hampered, dropping the stake and so forth. Okay, it isn’t laugh out loud funny but it is amusing none-the-less.

staked and electrocutedOf course, that is all well and good unless the vampire happens to have drunk the blood of someone born at an auspicious time on an auspicious day – like Anna. At that point the vampire becomes ultra powerful and can shrug off say, a metal stake through the heart, into a streetlamp and the resultant electrocution.

wanting to biteThe effects aren’t too bad but the whole thing hangs together like a collection of set pieces. The unusual lore seemed cobbled together in an attempt to tie in with whatever seemed to be working story wise and whatever comedy piece they were looking for, rather than decide on the lore and then build the story. I wasn’t convinced by the romance aspect at all and, to be honest, Lee was a fairly poor specimen of a vampire. Yet, as I say, not as bad as I’d been led to believe. 3 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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