Monday, July 13, 2009

Vamp or Not? A Chinese Ghost Story

dvdThis Hong Kong movie from 1987, directed by Siu-Tung Ching, is one of my favourite movies to come out of that region. The reasoning? Well it has it all; it is quite a touching romance, with comedy aplenty plus action and horror in liberal doses. It is beautifully shot, with wonderfully choreographed fights.

The story is simple and as such becomes quite elegant – a bumbling but pure and innocent tax collector, Ning Tsai-Shen (Leslie Cheung), stays in an abandoned temple that houses both a disillusioned Taoist swordsman, Yin (Ma Wu), and a host of ghosts. The ghost Nieh Hsaio-Tsing (Joey Wang) is forced to lure men for her Mistress, Old Evil (Siu-Ming Lau), and in three days will be forced to marry the demonic Lord Black. Nieh realises what a good heart Ning has and the two fall into a doomed love.

The film also occasionally falls onto vampire filmographies, so let us see if that is justified…

Old EvilThere are three aspects to explore and we will start with Old Evil. She is some form of tree demon. She is 1000 years old and can take human form. Her tongue can expand and stretch for miles, seeking out the mouth of a man (prone due to Nieh), which she then uses to suck the lifeforce from him – turning him into a husk. We have had lifeforce sucking vampires before and, whilst she cannot to our knowledge create another of her kind, we should look at what becomes of her desiccated victims.

zombie or vampire?We see a group of them in an attic, lying like forgotten victims – husk like corpses from previous feedings. However Ning, in the room below, cuts his finger whilst slicing fruit – an old chestnut of a device, to be sure – the scent of the blood makes the husks react and they start moving. Their movements are very slow – but they are all withered husks to be fair. Essentially they begin to hunt – what they would do if they caught a man we don’t quite know.

it seens to have fangsWe do see a separate one fight with Yin and the Taoist pins him with a magic needle and then blows him up with a prayer scroll. As for the ones near Ning they are part of a slow slapstick series of misadventures. At one point he steps on one’s hand and we see that it apparently has fangs. Eventually he opens shutters and the daylight causes them to melt down to gunk – rapid decomposition. The fangs might be a stylistic coincidence but rapid decomposition in sunlight is oh so very vampire. Indeed, given that these are victims of having their energy sucked and the look I was reminded of the zombie like creatures in Lifeforce.

flying headsFinally I think I should mention Lord Black. When the heroes find themselves in Hell, trying to rescue Nieh, they see Lord Black who opens his court to reveal a number of heads who fly from his cloak and bite the heroes. I was reminded very much of the penanggal and similar flying head vampires but, to be fair, that was probably more coincidence than anything and I don’t think they were meant to be such a creature.

Joey Wang a NiehOf all the different types of creature mentioned the most likely to be classed as a vampire is the desiccated husk, zombie like creatures who dissolve in the sun. However, one feels that they are – if vampires – possibly only in the film long enough to warrant an honourable mention rather than class the film as a vampire movie.

poll resultsWhat do you think?

After running a poll the readership of the blog have decided that this film should be a honourable mention – and given the nature of democracy – that is now the official T_ttlg position.

The imdb page is here.


Mateo said...

One of my favorite movies of all time... it's been a few years since I've seen it so my memory is cloudy, but I don't remember anything that made me think it was vampire lore.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Mateo - great to hear from you.

One of my faves also but it is one that comes up on vamp lists from time to time, which made me want to look at it with a probing eye - as it were.

I had a comment here once also asking if I would feature it - so best to tackle it methinks.

ScarletAngel said...

Sounds not like a vampire movie, but a honorable mention - a flick with slight vampiric elements: desiccated husks sensing blood, and hardly for any good purpose...

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers for the comment Scarletangel - certainly that was the way I was leaning. Remember to cast your vote if you haven't already :)