Alright folks… I’ve got a weird one for ya!
Mr. Vampire (or Geung si sin sang, as it was called in the original Cantonese…which I don’t speak, by the way) is a 1985 martial arts / horror / comedy directed by Ricky Lau. This was Lau’s directorial debut and was the first in a number of films by Lau that explored dark themes, like vampires, ghosts, demons, and so on. For those who haven’t seen a Chinese vampire film, I feel like I need to explain some things. Although the creatures in this film are sometimes CALLED vampires, there are a few differences from the Westerners’ favorite creatures of the night. For one thing, Chinese vampires are more like zombies (or OLD SCHOOL vampires, pre-Bela Lugosi—rotting corpses instead of suave aristocrats or sparkly lover-boys,) and although vampirism can be transmitted by bite, in the case of Mr. Vampire, the original trouble-maker is created when a person is improperly buried, and their soul isn’t shown the proper respect. Because their soul isn’t able to rest peacefully, and because the person “died with a curse in their throat,” they come back to take their revenge on the living—in this case the careless son who buried his father standing up instead of lying down (thanks to some bad advice from a fortune teller.)
Another difference between Western vampires and the Chinese variety: Chinese vampires HOP at you. I mean, their feet are basically stuck together, they put their arms out in front of their bodies, and they bend their knees and HOP towards their victims—and the camera even switches to slow motion, sometimes, to show the scary vampire hopping in search of blood! Luckily, if you’re menaced by a hopping vampire, you do have one means of defense. If you hold your breath, a Chinese vampire can’t find you…for some reason. It’s weird (from a Western perspective,) and maybe this doesn’t seem that scary, but I spoke with a Chinese friend of mine who assured me that the movie WAS meant to be frightening, and even admitted that he thought the film was scary when he watched it! (Cultural differences…)
Anyway, here’s an attempt at a plot summary: a BAD-ASS mortician, Sifu (in my dubbed version, I think this is all he’s ever called, but the word means something like “teacher” or “master,”) is also a skilled magician and powerful psychic warrior (probably common for morticians in China,) and Sifu is asked by a wealthy businessman to unbury and then rebury his dead father. (Again, this is on the advice of a fortune teller, who says that unburying the guy’s old man will somehow bring the businessman good fortune.) Sifu and his assistants protest and try to talk the guy out of it, but he persists so they do as they are asked. However, Sifu quickly realizes, before they can rebury the corpse, that the old man is becoming a vampire, and although he attempts to take precautions to keep the vengeful spirit from walking at night, his two main assistants are bumbling idiots, and the old man escapes from the mortuary and goes on a rampage.
In the process of trying to hunt the vampire down, Sifu has to deal with the infected folks who have been bitten by the creature and become vampires themselves, AND he also has to try to heal one of his assistants who is infected but hasn’t turned yet (the healing process involves laying on sticky rice and also breakdancing—I’m not joking,) and Sifu has to rescue his OTHER assistant from the ghost of a young woman who has made him into a love slave. (The battle between Sifu and the ghost is one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen, and I’d recommend watching this movie for that scene alone!) The movie is pretty silly, and it includes a lot of farcical, slap-stick moments, as well as a large dose of meta-humor, things like Sifu saying to his infected assistant that he can’t be taken to a hospital for treatment because the movie doesn’t have a big enough budget for a hospital scene. (It’s like Deadpool, but 30+ years earlier!) The martial arts battles are well choreographed and entertaining, and Sifu (who is played to perfection by Lam Ching Ying) is seriously hardcore, funny and ass-kickingly powerful!
I should mention that there is one uncomfortable scene where it looks like they kill a chicken (like, really—although I’m not certain) to make a magic spell work, which is pretty yucky, but other than that there isn’t too much that folks would find too objectionable. The language isn’t obscene, there isn’t any nudity, and the violence is pretty tame compared to what they show in an average episode of Supernatural. Very little blood or gore. I supposed some little kids might find the rotting vampires a bit scary, and there is some creepy 1980’s sexism to get past, but overall, it’s a pretty tame film.
SO!!! If you like weird, funny, slightly creepy martial arts films with ghosts and vampires in them, then Mr. Vampire is going to make you smile. It’s probably not going to impress gore fans, nor is it going to terrify anyone who grew up watching Western cinema, but it’s a damn fun movie with a few scenes that are so crazy that they’ll have you rewinding them a few times, just to see if you ACTUALLY saw what just happened on screen! The special effects are cheesy, the humor is farcical (bordering on stupid,) and the monsters are pretty unterrifying, but if you can appreciate freaky old kung-fu films, like The Nine Demons or the Jackie Chan classic, The Fearless Hyena, then give Mr. Vampire a try. It’s fun and creepy in a DIFFERENT sort of way!
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
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