Director: Ricky Lau
Producer: Sammo Hung
Writer: Roy Szeto, Barry Wong
Cast: Lam Ching-Ying, Chin Siu Ho, Ricky Hui, Moon Lee, Pauline Wong, Yuen Wah, Billy Lau, Choi Fung-Li, Wu Ma, Yuen Wah, Anthony Chan
I sat down to watch Mr. Vampire at least half-expecting to see a Chinese Night of the Living Dead acid-trip shitfest, and to say that I was pleasantly surprised would be a big understatement. This isn’t some cheap-ass nonsense shot on less money than it takes to buy a blow job in a red light district. It’s a highly amusing romp with style, charm, and entertainment value coming out the wazoo.
Ethnocentric Westerners, don’t let the title “Mr. Vampire” fool you…you won’t find anyone even remotely resembling Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Anne Rice’s Lestat or even Brian Lumley’s Faethor Ferenczy anywhere in this film. The title (presumably) refers to Lam Ching-Ying’s character Kou, a courageous wise man who specializes in keeping the living safe from the restless dead. At times, though, mere knowledge and bravery just aren’t enough…you need some extra hands to get the job done. That’s why the intrepid Kou has a pair of assistants named Chou and Man Chor.
Their mission, should they choose to accept it (and, by the way, they do) is to protect young Ting Ting and her dad from the undead menace of Grandpa Yam. Business as usual except for Ting Ting’s meddling cousin Wai, the world’s most spectacularly incompetent cop, who makes life (and death) more difficult for everyone involved by virtue of his very presence. His biggest concern is that one of Kou’s wards will get to marry (or at least bone) cousin Ting Ting before he will.
Speaking of boning, there’s a very nifty sub-plot in which Chou is bewitched by a female ghost and is “forced” to bone her until he can bone no more. She then seizes control of his mind and attempts to make him her slave (isn’t that just like a woman?). Meanwhile, Kou’s other assistant Man Chor has a problem of his own. He has contracted the vampire disease (for lack of a better term) and must dance barefoot on uncooked rice and then be physically restrained at all times to keep himself from joining the ranks of the undead and harming his friends. Now, tell me, which of these hapless young men would YOU rather be?
Side note: the music heard whenever the female ghost appears reminds me of that “Nick-nack-paddy-whack, give the dog a bone (there’s that word again), this old man came rolling home” song.
The “action” category is not well suited for this film, but Mr. Vampire is at its best during its most kinetic scenes. The sight of cousin Wai frantically scrambling this way and that to elude one of the rampaging undead predators while Kou and Chou make attempt after desperate attempt to thwart the seemingly unstoppable vampire is one that will draw many a fond chuckle from you long after the movie is over. It’s a see-and-see-again flick if ever there was one.
Now, a word of explanation about Mr. Vampire’s villainous ghoulies, so you don’t say “What in the name of hell-bent fuck am I watching?” too much during the movie. Vampires, as portrayed in this film, bear little resemblance to the nocturnal bloodsuckers that most of us are familiar with. Instead, they’re pretty much animated corpses who hop around (the ground upon which the living trod burn their feet) and attack anyone who crosses their path. They are able to locate victims by honing in on the breath of the living…witness Kou and company holding their breath to escape a horrible fate with big nasty teeth. It’s like remaining motionless so as not to get gobbled up by the T-Rex in Jurassic Park.
Some may find this film too weird or cartoony or cheesy to have any real merit. Well, fuck “some”. Mr. Vampire is a priceless gem mined from a cave of shit and, despite its age, it will stay untarnished by time for those of us who appreciate a rip-roaring fun movie.
Numskull’s Rating: 9/10
Easily one of the best HK comedy movies I’ve seen [only rivals being a few Stephen Chow flicks], “Mr. Vampire” is a must for everyone interested in HK cinema [or fantasy/horror cinema for general]. While the first [and best] widely recognized HK “hopping vampire” movie was of course Sammo’s magnificent “Encounters of the Spooky Kind”, “Mr. Vampire” was the movie that actually started the whole genre. Countless spin-offs include at least 4 sequels [plus them “Mr. Vampire ’92” stuff and so on] and countless other horrendous attempts trying to cash in with the then popular “vampire” trend (hey, at least they don’t do ’em anymore).[A beginners guide to Chinese vampires: A Chinese vampire has actually very little to do with your usual western vampire. Chinese vampires, or rather gyonshies, are corpses that for some reason haven’t had a decent burial ceremony and thereforeÉ arch, fuck it. Just go watch the movie already and you have the necessary knowledge.]I’ll skip the plot (you HAVE to watch this the movie anyway), but let’s reveal that there are a Taoist priest (played wonderfully by Lam Ching-Ying, no wonder he got to play the same character for the rest of his life) whose main concerns are a bunch of living dead on the loose and two rather idiotic assistants Chin Siu-Ho [who falls in love with a female ghost] and Ricky Hui [who gets bitten by a gyonshi]. There’s excitement, brief martial arts encounters [involving Lam Ching-Ying & Chin Siu-Ho battling vampires (i.e. Yuen Wah)], thrills [including a flying head], magic [surprisingly there’s not-too-bad special effects] and funny [what?] comedy. The movie also looks quite good like most of the 80’s bigger-budget films. By the way, when you see the corgeous Moon Lee in this movie (as the daughter of the rich merchant), can you believe that this chick can really FIGHT (well if you can’t it, watch the finale of “Angels II”)? Highly recommended.
Perkele’s Rating: 8.5/10