Directed by Ricky Lau
Produced by Sammo Hung
Written by Szeto Cheuk Hon
Director of Photograpy Peter Ngor
Music by Lip On Tat
Cast: Lam Ching Yang, Ricky Hui, Chin Siu Ho & Pauline Wong
1985/97 mins/Color/5.1 DTS
1.78:1 anamorphic/Cantonese/Hong Kong/NTSC Region 1
Review from the 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment DVD
In recent reviews, I've written about the requirements for watching and enjoying foreign films, where I discussed notions such as learning about other countries through film, or accepting the differences between cultures when confronted with something alien in a movie. And then you've got movies like the 1985 Hong Kong classic MR. VAMPIRE, where one must accept the fact that the movie doesn't make any sense at all to a foreigner and simply enjoy the insane on-screen shenanigans.
(Note: The character names used in this review are the ones presented in the translation present on this DVD. Other translations have used other names.) Set in an undetermined time period in China (some of the clothes and tools look ancient, yet there is electricity), MR. VAMPIRE centers on a mortuary run by Master Ko (Lam Ching Ying), who has two bumbling assistants, Dan (Ricky Hui) and Harry (Chin Siu Ho). Yam (Huang Ha) hires Master Ko to re-bury his father, which will supposedly bring good luck to him and his daughter, Tina (Moon Lee). However, when Ko removes the body from the grave, he finds that Yam's father (Wah Yuen) is a vampire. Despite tight precautions, the vampire escapes and attacks the Yam family. Master Ko and his assistants must use their knowledge of Taoist powers and kung-fu skills to stop the undead.
Except for the "re-bury" part, the plot of MR. VAMPIRE sounds pretty easy to follow for Western viewers and doesn't sound all that unusual. But, we soon learn that the Western idea of a vampire and that of the Chinese is almost completely different. Add in the Taoist elements of the film and you've got something which is completely different from any vampire film coming out of the U.S. or Europe. I won't go into too much detail, lest I spoil the film for first-time viewers of this genre, but some of the unique qualities of Chinese vampires include; the fact that they hop instead of walk (this is never explained in MR. VAMPIRE, but I seem to remember reading somewhere that this has something to do with the fact that the vampires are unnatural creatures and are thus repelled by the Earth); while the vampires have fangs, they attack with their long fingernails; and my favorite, sticky rice is one of the best ways to combat vampires. And trust me, this is just the beginning of the wacky concepts in this movie. I have no clue if these ideas come from Chinese folklore or if they were created solely for movies like this one. One thing's for certain, the bizarre concepts found in MR. VAMPIRE may frighten off many viewers simply because it's so different from what American audiences are used to.
Once you get past those differences, you'll find another interesting feature about MR. VAMPIRE -- it's a comedy. That's right, this crazy movie which involves vampires, zombies, ghosts, flying severed heads, and impalings is a comedy. While some of the comedy seems to be cultural (i.e. I didn't get it), most of the humor comes from very broad slap-stick moves, with the funniest moment coming when one of the characters attempts to hide the fact that they're becoming a vampire. Also thrown into the mix is a very generous amount of kung-fu action, as Ko and Harry use a very of martial art skills (mixed with Taoist spell-casting) to fight the monsters. MR. VAMPIRE is a prime example of the way Hong Kong filmmakers are able to seamlessly mix genres and create very original movies. Although MR. VAMPIRE is over 15 years old, and has had many sequels, it still feels very fresh, and while it's not perfect, it will be a fun ride for any fan of Asian cinema.
MR. VAMPIRE hops onto DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Given the fact that this is a 15-year old Chinese film, the transfer looks pretty good. The image does show some occasional defects from the source material, but nowhere near the amount that I expected. The image is sharp and fairly clear, but there is some noticeable grain at times. The colors are good, although slightly washed-out looking at times. Some of the night-time scenes show noticeable artifacting. The DVD contains four audio tracks; English Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 & Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. All of these tracks sound great, but obviously the original Cantonese is the preferred way to hear the film and the DTS track rocks. The dialogue is clear and the surround sound and subwoofer effects are plentiful. The English subtitles are clear and easy to read. The only extras on the DVD are the original trailer for MR. VAMPIRE, in Chinese with no subs, and a newly made trailer from Fox. Tai Seng originally released MR. VAMPIRE in Region 1 in December, 2000, but I haven't seen that DVD, so I can't compare it to this new release.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2004. ©