Thursday, September 22, 2016

Kung Fu Vampire – review

Director: Cheung-Yan Yuen

Release date: 1993

Contains spoilers

Xiang xi shi wang is a film that centres itself on corpse herding and the term vampire and zombie seems interchangeable in the subtitles. In fact, the corpses are, mostly, well behaved through the film (bar one faux attack and being controlled in battle). It is the herders – or voodoo men as the subtitles call them – who are the misbehaving element in the film.

As such we don’t get any real vampiric action in the film but the kyonsi are front and centre throughout the film.

Zombie King
The film starts with a quick voiceover about corpse herding and the methods used (we see them floated on platters behind a pilotless boat, carried, hopping and flying). Then we see two herders bringing a line of hopping corpses along the road. They don’t notice a pair of cops grab a corpse and pull it into the bushes to search. However Zombie King (the leader of the herders) knows all about this and flies in (by the medium of magic cloak) to admonish the herders.

A group of cops led by Cha try to arrest Zombie King and his herders – the charge being that they use the bodies for unspeakable acts. However the arrest is resisted and a battle ensues. Despite greatly outnumbering the herders, the cops have their asses handed to them, Cha is grievously wounded and orders a retreat. Zombie King, of course, promises revenge for interfering with his business.

Yong and Qin
We see a “couple” on a boat (along with a singing boatman) They are Qin and Yong. Yong acts as though Qin is his girlfriend (even saying so at times) and she acts as though she is oblivious of his feelings. He is a comedy character throughout, prone to histrionics. They have come over from Japan as Qin’s father has died (it is Cha, we quickly discover), though ethnically neither are portrayed as Japanese – rather they are Han Chinese, as the film reiterates and I’ll return to ethnicity shortly. The boat trip is long enough to provide some misadventures – establishing Yong’s comedy status – and to let us know we are in Xiang Xi.

entering the morgue
When they get to the village we have some more misadventures around the morgue and Qin discovers that her father has been taken by corpse herders already, so as to get him to his home village. She decides to follow after but ends up fighting herders and being rescued by Dang (son of the local king). Back to ethnicity and the village is made up of a Miao Clan. Yong thinks of the locals as primitive (and this seems more based on ethnic divides than simple country vs city issues). They are quick to label the pair as Han. However I do not know enough about Chinese ethnic groups to get the nuances (if there are any).

Zombie King addresses the smugglers
Qin is a doctor (it appears, though later it is established that she and Yong are student doctors) and she offers to save the Miao King’s grandson – however when the injection she gives seems to kill the lad (who is dying of pneumonia) the King looks to have them summarily executed. Again Dang rescues them and then they start their quest for Cha’s body in earnest. Their misadventures will, of course, have them return to the village.

acting as a kyonsi
I mentioned a faux attack and one kyonsi has its prayer scroll removed and seems to go on the attack – however it is actually a robber waiter at a tavern acting as a vampire and attacking them. The reason the police are after the herders is because they are opening up their wards’ bodies, removing the intestines and filling them with gold and opium. The corpses are then used to transport the contraband.

Qin finds her father's corpse
The film is ok but I really could have lived without the worst excesses of Yong as a comedy character. Qin was more a cipher than a well-rounded character and that is a shame as she would have made a brilliant female lead had the filmmakers chosen to use her better. There are some plot issues (one around the faux kyonsi, for instance) and the kung fu is passable, even if it is not the best I have seen. All told 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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