Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Shaolin Drunkard – review

Director: Yuen Wo-Ping

Release date: 1983

Contains spoilers

This came on my radar as potentially being a vampire film but, to be honest, it skated a very fine line and, despite a promising start it was very nearly a candidate for a “Vamp or Not?” As it was I felt it probably crossed the line into “Vamp” and I decided to review it instead.

It is a strange beast, however, and no mistake. Surreal in places, the fact that the version I saw was dubbed caused less consternation than normal as the dubbing actually added to its surreal nature.

Yuen Cheung-Yan as Chan
So we start in a Shaolin temple and there is a monk, Chan (Yuen Cheung-Yan, the Close Encounter of the Vampire), who uses his acrobatic skills and his magic in order that he might drink wine when actually he should be watching over a prisoner, the evil magician (Yuen Shun-Yi, also the Close Encounter of the Vampire & the Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires). When we see him delivered food he throws the rice away and says he needs blood. That night Chan sneaks off to get drunk, whilst leaving a disturbingly accurate automaton style mannequin in his place.

blood drinking
The temple receives a visit from the evil magician’s pupil (Brandy Yuen Jan-Yeung, also Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires), who manages to break into the magically guarded cell and prevent the elaborate alarms (that work on a principle like the game Mousetrap) from sounding. He throws a jar at the cell, which smashes showering the magician with blood, which he drinks as it runs down his face and this seems to give him the strength to escape his prison. We also notice that he has tusk like fangs but they are on the lower mandible. The monk is reprimanded and given three months to recapture the magician or he will be imprisoned.

Chan and Yuen
Elsewhere we meet Yau Pai Yuen (Yuen Yat-Choh, also Close Encounter with the Vampire), he lives with his granny (played by Yuen Cheung-Yan) and both have magic. Granny feels that the family is cursed as each generation only has one male heir and Yuen needs to marry. He has been trying to avoid Granny’s matchmaking efforts but it all comes to a head and the old girl threatens to kill herself as he won’t marry. He just wants to choose his own bride and she gives him three months to find a bride. Of course the two men’s paths will cross.

the cart
And cross they do, at first via Chan’s (I assume magically powered) cart. Meanwhile the magician has met with his brother (Eddy Ko Hung, Vampire Settles on Police Camp) and needs the blood of virgins born on the lunar day to get a bone sword and suggests using his brother's daughter (Yeung Hoi-Yi) to tempt them. Yuen passes the marriage tests but runs away from the bride because she has an infantile haemangioma birthmark (yes he truly is that shallow), so there is much interaction as she tries to get her man back. However, from our point of view nothing more is said about blood and it sounded like Yuen’s blood was needed for a ritual.

trying to put the bite on
However as the film marched into its finale, and there is a showdown between the misfit heroes and the evil magician, it becomes clear that he wants to drink Yuen’s blood (he even says as much) and tries to bite his neck. This rescued the film back to being vampire (albeit a magician vampire with lower tusk fangs). Nevertheless, we’ll take the win, as it were. The film itself has some uncomfortable jokes around the girl’s birthmark (Yuen falls for her when it vanishes after being treated for acid damage inflicted by a spitting magic battle toad – I kid you not). There are some interesting mask work and puppet moments.

The film is generally surreal, indeed quite absurdist in places, and as such works rather well – despite dubbing (as I mentioned). Honestly, it’s probably even better subbed but I think it deserves a solid 6 out of 10 as a piece of fantasy-fu.

The imdb page is here.

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