Director: Daniel Chan Yee Hang
Writer: Wong Jing
Producer: Wong Jing
Cast: Yuen Biao, Ronald Cheng, Michelle Hu Ran, Philip Ng, Kelvin Kwan Cho Yiu, Jiang Lu Xia, Tony Ho Wah Chiu, Winnie Leung, Ricky Yi Faan Wai, Patrick Keung Hiu Man
Running Time: 95 min.
By Paul Bramhall
It’s a sad reflection of audiences expectations from Hong Kong cinema when news of a new hopping vampire (or geung si as they’re often referred) movie, starring kung fu legend Yuen Biao, was met with a mostly muted reaction. In the 80’s the hopping vampire movie was a hugely popular sub-genre of Hong Kong action cinema, kicked off by Sammo Hung’s Encounters of the Spooky Kind, the movie that really started the ball rolling was Mr. Vampire, which spawned a number of sequels and copy cats. One of the stars of Mr. Vampire, Chin Siu Ho, starred in a recent revival of the genre, Juno Mak’s Rigor Mortis, which decided to play things straight to chilling effect. Biao himself got in on the action for the first sequel to the Mr. Vampire series in 1985, so to see him also returning to the genre almost 30 years later, it should have been a cause of excitement.
It could well be argued that part of the blame for such a muted reaction was down to the news that Sifu vs. Vampire was going to be directed by Daniel Chan. Chan was once sited for big things, thanks to a screenplay he’d written called Cross. Not only was it selected as one of the top 50 screenplays of the 2008 American Screenwriting Competition, but it also won the NAFF Jury Award at the 14th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival. Sadly though, the production became an epic mess. Chan ended up leaving, and finally the movie limped onto screens in 2012 with credits that included four different directors, and three different actors playing one role. The fact that Chan’s name was attached to it in any shape of form was bad news.
That being said, outside of the Cross fiasco Chan hasn’t fared much better. The two other movies he’s solely responsible for directing are the lackluster 2012 triad movie, imaginatively titled Triad, and the epic fail of 2013, the rebooted Young and Dangerous: Reloaded. All the signs seem to indicate that perhaps Chan would be best returning to his roots of writing screenplays, however with Sifu vs. Vampire, it looks like he’s yet to notice them. Instead, the master of lowest denominator filmmaking Wong Jing is onboard not only as writer, but producer as well. When Jing wants to entertain, he can, however the history of movies which feature him in some sort of capacity other than director isn’t a pretty one.
Like many of Wong Jing’s screenplays, the story is ridiculously convoluted. Ronald Cheng, known for his comedic roles, plays a low level gangster with a single follower, wannabe martial arts leading man Philip Ng, who bizarrely sports a huge black afro with yellow dots. Cheng is somehow connected to a more powerful gangster played by Kelvin Kwan, who has all the screen presence of a wet leaf. Kwan gets his power from his grandfather’s burial site, which has good Feng Shui, but the time has come when for him to maintain his power, he needs to re-locate the burial site. Enter Taoist master Yuen Biao and his protégé, wannabe martial arts leading lady Jiang Luxia. Biao of course refuses to help based on principle, but becomes connected to Cheng and Ng because Cheng is being stalked by the spirit of a beautiful woman, played by Michele Hu. Hu died at the hands of an evil Taoist master played by Ricky Yi, that Cheng witnessed, who is now keeping her ashes so she can’t cross over into the next world. As it happens, with Biao refusing, Kwan enlists the help of Yi to help him find a new burial site instead.
Got all that? Well, it hardly matters, it’s all inconsequential. The main thing to remember is that if Kwan’s grandfather isn’t moved to a new burial site in time, he’ll become a super powerful vampire that will put an end to the world. Or something like that. Like all things Wong Jing, even though it looks long winded on paper, onscreen it all just becomes an excuse for inane comedy hijinks. Sifu vs. Vampire actually starts off strong, although not necessarily in the way you’d expect it to. A scene involving an exorcism being performed on a sex obsessed demon, in the middle of providing lip service to a poor victims crown jewels, is so outrageous that it’s genuinely hilarious. In fact the initial 15 minutes are little more than an endless barrage of sex jokes, so for all intents and purposes it appears that we’re going to be getting a kind of geung si version of Vulgaria.
Yuen Biao also makes a worthwhile entrance, as possibly the coolest looking Taoist master to have graced the screen so far. Decked out in a sharp black suit and sporting a goatee beard, when this guys deals with demons, he looks good doing it. Jiang Luxia looks equally sharp, here finding herself in yet another geung si movie after 2010’s Vampire Warriors. However the wit and high energy of the first 15 minutes quickly dissipates, and what’s left feels like an endless procession of mind numbing extended ‘comedy’ sequences, none of which come close to generating a laugh. If an actress who begins to turn into a vampire attempting to file her nails to lose the claws she’s growing sounds like good comedy to you, then perhaps you’ll be of a different opinion, or how about a vampire detecting someone because they fart? What’s worse is that the movie even recycles its own jokes, with characters getting impaled in the ass with a sword on two separate occasions. The problem is it wasn’t that funny the first time.
The vampires themselves aren’t clearly defined either. For a start, none of them actually hop, which for fans of the genre is sacrilegious in itself. The all powerful grandfather vampire is dressed in traditional Chinese attire, however he’s mostly obscured by CGI black swirls which surround him, obviously stolen from the same technique that was used in Rigor Mortis. He also moves like a superhero, all ridiculously fast CGI flying from here to there, so much so that he barely registers as an actual character. Others who end up as vampires, such as Kwan and a bunch of extras, seem to turn into either a western style vampire, with a desire to bite attractive female necks, or just boring arm waving zombies.
Despite Ng pulling double duty as action director, assisted by Yuen Cheung Yan, what action is there is hardly worth writing about. Biao barely gets to do anything, instead left to play it straight faced and stoic throughout, with Luxia only given a few brief moments to shine. When things finally start to look up, and Biao summons the Rebel Prince and Monkey King to possess Luxia and Ng’s bodies respectively to take on a corridor full of zombies, it’s frustratingly filmed through a distorted fish eye filter, so it’s not even clear what’s going on.
Sifu vs. Vampire does have a couple of decent ideas, the concept of wearing a gas mask and oxygen tank so that the vampires can’t detect human presence is clever (in Chinese mythology vampires are blind and can only detect people via their breath), and not something I’ve seen before. Also, Biao’s decision to cast Taoist spells on the bullets being loaded into a shotgun leads to a cool scene that has him decked out in his suit, pumping rounds from a shotgun into the vampire. It kind of reminded me of the way Chow Yun Fat decides to deal with things in the finale of The Seventh Curse. But despite how good it sounds on paper, just like the comedy, the CGI, and everything else, onscreen it’s executed terribly. The title may be Sifu vs. Vampire, but in any case, the only loser in this battle is the audience.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 3/10