Friday, September 20, 2013

The First Vampire in China – review

Director: Huang Ying

Release date: 1986

Contains spoilers

It has taken a little while before I could watch the First Vampire in China. I did have the film without subtitles but it took an upload to YouTube by a kind soul for me to be able to watch it with English subs. The quality of the print (and resolution of the file) were atrocious but, whilst that will certainly affect the quality of the screenshots that accompany this review, at last I have seen the film.

And it is Hong Kong cinema at its most bizarre. Full of the slapstick that one would expect, what I didn’t expect was one of the most unusual vampires I have ever come across (and that isn’t referring to the main vampire).

the Jade suit
The start of the film gives us the history behind the lore to be used. It takes place during the war centuries and concentrates on the warlords, specifically the King of West Chow. He believed in his court wizards and, wanting to be immortal, he ate anything they gave him. It killed him. The wizards then dressed his body in a suit and mask made out of jade and gold thread so the body could be worshipped. But a stellar conjunction when the moon was closest to China brought him back as a vampire. Anyone scratched by him would become a vampire and it seemed that China was doomed to become a land of vampires, except for a fortuitous earthquake that swallowed the vampire army into the earth. Most degenerated in the earth, bar the King whose suit preserved him.

driving to the burial site
A car drives towards a burial area. In the car are the new mayor Alexander (Charlie Cho Cha Lei), his driver/right hand man Tao and a young woman called Suzan. He is inspecting the area (to see if there is anything of any value). All the coffins are built into (what seems to be) a cliff face. They are wind buried as the locals believe that the soils will cause anything buried in the ground to become vampire. They have a run in with a young disciple of Master Kent of Mount Mao who is selling Taoist magical paraphernalia.

the first vampire
The mayor is a rationalist who doesn’t hold with superstition. He moves into the most horrible, haunted house in the town – which is actually haunted. However he is temporarily protected, as a new town leader, by a phenomena of triple flames. During a burial service Kent refuses to have his photo taken (cameras steal the soul) and one of his disciples breaks into a cave deep in the cliff. He feels around in the dark and finds a scale of jade (from the first vampire’s suit) and is eventually grabbed by the first vampire. Thinking he has sloped off, the coffin is put in place.

cushings a cross
The mayor challenges the superstitions when he sees the Jade piece (which made its way out of the cave, unlike its initial discoverer). Kent has a dead cockerel buried in the soil and suggests they return the next day. During the night Suzan takes the two disciples keeping watch for a drive, whilst the mayor and Tao dig up the cockerel – which is revealed to now be a vampire (yes, a vampire cockerel, you read that right!!!) and attacks them. Interestingly Tao cushings a cross together (crosses two pieces of wood) but it has no effect on the cockerel.

the vampire cockerel
Later the two dynamite the burial site, which puts bodies in contact with the soil and gives the first vampire a way of getting out. The men themselves have both been scratched by the vampire cockerel and start to cock-a-doodle-do at sunrise, their eyes turn green and their eyesight begins to fail. They peck at grain if confronted by it (a twist on counting grains, no doubt) and become quite horny it appears. They are rescued by being encouraged to consume sticky rice.

prayer scroll burns
Beyond that (very unusual vampire cockerel) we have a side story with a pair of ghosts trying to get Suzan to kill herself so the younger one can marry her and the attack of the main vampire as well. The main vampire has limited sight and hearing (so is not restricted to smelling breath), is immune to prayer scrolls (one on its head bursts into flames almost immediately), black dog blood seems acidic but won’t stop it and the suit protects it from fire.

infected by the vampire cockerel
The film is worth seeing if only for the vampire cockerel (and the novelty value thereof) but overall the film is at the low quality end of the kyonsi films. The acting is manic and geared mainly towards the comic. The kung fu is very limited within the film. I do wonder whether the jade outfit inspired Shaolin Vs the Evil Dead? There are better Hong Kong vampire movies out there but none (that I know of) with vampire cockerels, with that caveat 3.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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