Monday, September 08, 2008

Vamp or Not? Mortuary Blues

There are two distinct reasons for me looking at a film under the auspices of ‘Vamp or Not?’ One is because I see a film and spot something within it that ties it into the vampire genre or there is a claim made that the film is of the vampire genre. This film by Jeffrey Lau from 1990 falls into the second category.

The film appears in various vampire filmographies, not least within the fairly exacting online filmography at Vampyres Online. As you can tell, despite the fact that the film uses the V word (once, anyway), I was not entirely convinced and thus this article.

Mortuary Blues starts with a Taoist ritual on a shoreline. 300 years before the ancestors of the villagers attacked a ship and killed the soldiers on board, stealing the Emperor’s treasure. They placed the treasure in a hidden vault along with a corpse the ship was carrying, one Shih Huang Ti. The village has lived comfortably on the loot but the corpse is restless. The Taoist suggests hiring an opera so that the show will keep the evil at bay.

We see just how seriously the villagers take their guilty secret. A woman is suspected of having spoken about the treasure to an outsider. Though they agree to look after her son, the village elders have the woman killed and look to have the outsider assassinated. The only ones not in on the conspiracy are, it seems, the police – led by Shih (Corey Yuen Kwai). He is convinced that the village is drug trafficking and perhaps the opera is a front for moving the drugs.

As the opera opens, the outsider and a friend try to find the treasure as the woman did more than talk – she provided a map. Things go wrong, one is killed and the other is injured. He passes the map to two of the opera performers. They, with the help of the tutor of the opera manager’s son, try to find the treasure and Shih gets drawn into it.

During the film we see three distinct animated corpses. The first are all female and guard the opening to the vault. They have faces that are at various levels of decomposition (from very to virtually not) but stylistically look like Chinese ghosts. They are moon animated (until Shih Huang Ti is awakened). They are also referred to as ‘ass-ghosts’ due to the fact that one is placated by having her ass rubbed.

Before we go to our main undead, I will mention an underwater corpse that chases one of the characters through a rather well done swimming sequence. Again we have no evidence that it is anything other than a reanimated corpse – one that can swim.

As for Shih Huang Ti he is invincible until three coins are forced fed to him and he is stabbed by a specific magic sword. He has a variety of powers – including flight, which is robbed when he is fed the first coin. He is able to spit and cocoon persons in silk it seems. The only vampire reference is when a character calls him a vampire – once.

Hong Kong movies tend to use one of two vampire models. Either the vampires are traditionally western or they are kyonsi. Whilst the rules might get skewed from film to film there is always a baseline to look to. This has none of the baseline elements and is not, in my opinion, a vampire film. It is an amusing Hong Kong action comedy but it needs removing from vampire filmographies.

The imdb page is here.

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