Sunday, May 26, 2019

Vamp or Not? Palace of the Damned

This is a film listed on IMDb as being from 2013 and directed by Antony Szeto, and is a bit of an oddity. The film begins with a period piece, but that turns out to be from a filmset. Flashback moments to events are performed by the actors playing the modern-day actors. Confusingly, there is a further film entitled Shen Gong Yuan Ling, which is dated as 2017 and also directed by Szeto, and the IMDb trivia for it mentions lifting footage from this, the cast list is the same and the description sounds like the period film. This film then throws into the mix a storyline about an American film crew making a documentary about the Chinese Ghost Festival.

One feels like three films are mismatched together. There is a hint of possession of one of the actresses by the vengeful spirit of the character she plays, but that part of the film leads to a strange non-supernatural conclusion. Separately the American crew end up being attacked by the supernatural. Never the twain shall meet, it appears.

the jiangshi
The reason for looking at this was the blurb that said, “Legend has it that the Chan Ju Chi has risen to become a "jiangshi", killing innocent people in the hope of taking over their bodies.” So the jiangshi is what I would normally term as kyonsi and is best known in a cinema sense as a Chinese hopping vampire. They are not necessarily known for possession (and honestly, I didn’t get a sense in this that people were being killed to have their bodies hijacked).

removing the tongue
Starting with what appears to be a period piece we discover that Chan Ju Chi (Yixin Li) is a concubine of the Emperor and set to become the favourite as she is pregnant and astrologers predict that the child will be a son. This does not sit well with current favoured concubine Ping Wei (JuJu Chan) who leads her rival to a bed chamber and has a soldier brutalise her to kill the child. To stop her speaking out she has her tongue removed but the girl can write, so it’s a case of cut off her hand and then, for good measure, throw her down a well.

Katie Savoy as Rebecca
The actress playing Chan Ju Chi seems jealous of her co-star and has recently been in the tabloid press due to sexual pictures being leaked and goes a bit off the rails, but seems to be possessed by her character. By the end of the film many she thought had been killed were not dead at all and its all an elaborate plot by her shrink to heal her! However there is also an American documentary being shot and writer/anchor Rebecca (Katie Savoy) becomes somewhat obsessed with the concubines’ story.

taoist ritual
So it is that the American crew seem to be on the fringes of spiritual attacks taking place until eventually they are right at the centre of the supernatural storm. But are they facing a vampire? Jiangshi is used as a phrase occasionally and the spirit is able to become corporeal and uses long talons to dig into the necks of those she kills. She also has, on demand, sharp pointed teeth. When we see her being tackled it is by a Taoist priest – often used in Chinese vampire movies but not exclusive when it comes to the creatures of evil they’ll battle.

What we don’t see is anything resembling blood drinking and there is a large amount of non-corporeality. The spirit of the concubine may (or may not) be possessing the actress. This feels more like a ghost than anything (on the US documentary shoot at least) but the use of jiangshi makes this of genre interest I suppose. That said the film is as confused as the lore and pretty poor. The imdb page is here.

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