Friday, May 30, 2008

Mr Vampire 4 – review


Director: Ricky Lau

Release Date: 1988

Contains spoilers

After the lack of vampires in Mr Vampire 3, this movie returns back to the kyonsi (Chinese hopping vampires) seen in the first and second instalments – though perhaps instalments is the wrong word because, again, the film has little character wise to do with its predecessors and even lacks the presence of actor Ching Ying Lam.

One thing that struck me about the third film was the excellence of the action sequences and this, whilst there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the action, never manages the sweeping vistas of film number 3. It does, however, firmly embed the comedy elements and as a rule the comedy works really well.

Chin Kar Lok as Chai LeThe comedy is based around two rivals, neighbours out in the countryside. One, Sifu Yu Yi (Wu Ma), is a Buddhist priest and his neighbour is a Taoist. The neighbour is only ever referred to as Four Eyed Taoist (Anthony Chan Yao) – a reference to the fact he wears glasses. As the film starts Sifu Yu Yi has returned home with a new pupil, Ching Ching (Loletta Lee Lai-Chun). Four Eyed Taoist is away but his pupil Chai Le (Chin Kar Lok) is at home. The introduction sequence is essentially a comedy of errors that presupposes a blossoming romance between Chai Le and Ching Ching. That romance never occurs and the premise is a launching pad for comedy moments.

the fox spiritWe meet Four Eyed Taoist as he is vampire herding (the act of leading corpses from one locale to another, causing them to hop along behind the herder). It is a strange sequence, though amusing, and the only time I can recall having seen limboing kyonsi. However, a ghost (Pauline Yuk Wan Wong) watches and tries to steal a kyonsi. Four Eyed Taoist fights her until she tries to use feminine wiles to seduce him. This fails and we realise that she is a fox spirit.

fetish dollOnce home the film then concentrates for some time on the rivalry of the two priests. This includes a protracted scene involving controlling each other with fetish dolls, which is funny and narrowly escapes being too long.

religous rivalryOf course we have seen films from China that use rivalry between religions before. Foremost in my mind is Exorcist Master - a film that was actually directed by Wu Ma some five years after this. The rivalry in this is less bitter than that between Christianity and Taoism as portrayed in the later film and seems more based on personality than religious viewpoint.

the vampire escapingThe story proper starts about half way through the running time as a Taoist, Crane (Fat Chung), passes the houses with a procession. He has charge of a coffin containing a vampire, though there are princes and guards in the procession and he must offer deference to the princes. The night after they pass there is a storm that washed the black die from the string surrounding the coffin and the vampire escapes – killing most of the entourage. The survivors race back to the houses.

kyonsiThe film then sees the pupils battling turned guards and then pupils and masters working together to defeat the vampire. This is one powerful vampire however and they will have their work cut out for them.

Lore wise most things are standard to the kyonsi genre. We discover that when the vampire poison has gone so far into a victim’s system that sticky rice can no longer help then snake wine might still be able to draw the poison out. We also discover that, if bathing in rice milk to draw the vampire poison out, putting actual snakes into the bath will speed healing.

a Taoist hulkThere was a strange and yet highly amusing section when Four Eyed Taoist prays to his ancestor for help and is possessed. This possession takes the form of becoming highly muscled – think a Taoist version of the hulk. It was a small help, however, because when punctured (in this case by standing on a broken piece of crockery) the muscles deflate!

killing the kyonsiThere is a nice description of the sensations of turning – going cold and then itching, the growth of nails, of fangs and the overwhelming desire for blood. The method of killing the powerful vampire was highly unusual as it involved stuffing its mouth with a variety of poisons (whatever they could get their hands on) and a snake which had been bathing in rice milk.

This was good fun and all in all deserves a 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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