HOPPING MAD: THE MR VAMPIRE SEQUELS [1986-89]

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HOPPING MAD: THE MR VAMPIRE SEQUELS – MR VAMPIRE 2 [1986], MR VAMPIRE 3 [1987], MR VAMPIRE 2 [1988], VAMPIRE VS VAMPIRE [1089]

ON BLU-RAY: 23RD MAY, FROM EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera

Mr Vampire remains one of the definitive Hong Kong movies, and upon watching Eureka Entertainment’s Blu-ray release a while back Doc found it to be as infectiously fun as ever. However, he hasn’t yet seen any of the sequels and follow-ups, of which there were many. Eureka have now come to his rescue with this set of four!

Hopping Mad: The Mr Vampire Sequels

DISC ONE

MR VAMPIRE II [1986]

AKA GEUNG SEE GA ZUK

RUNNING TIME: 86 mins

Archaeologist Kwok and two of his students Chicken and Sashimi are searching for ancient artifacts and find a man, a woman and a boy vampire in a cave, immobolised by the talismans stuck to their foreheads. They brings them all back to Kwok’s laboratory and Kwok decides to sell the boy vampire in the black market, but wind blows the talisman off him; the boy awakes and hides in a family’s garage. Sashimi mischievously removes the others, so we now have two adult vampires attacking people. When Chicken is bitten, he goes to see Dr. Lam for treatment. Lam recognises the bite marks and, together with his daughter Gigi and his prospective son-in-law Yen, he embarks on a vampire-hunting quest….

You’ve got to love it when it’s all very simple: the good guys you cheer and the bad guys you boo. However, sometimes it gets a bit muddled, generally resulting in confusion or frustration, though sometimes it can get very interesting and thought-provoking. I’m not entirely sure if we’re intended to sympathise with the vampire family of Mr Vampire 2 as much as I certainly did, and “thought-provoking” is not a word that many readers would probably expect a reviewer to associate with the second instalment in a franchise of films featuring hopping vampires, magical monks and low humour. But sympathise I did. A mom, a dad and a child vampire are brought back to life and the parents set off to look for their vulnerable son. So what if a few people are killed and things smashed? That’s nothing compared to when the huge monster Gorgo destroyed most of London in search of her son in the 1961 film of that name, yet we were still partly on her side. When the police are using all sorts of weapons on the two parent vampires and our vampire killer is employing more unusual ones, we almost want them to stop. You never know; the family, once reunited, might just have wanted to go off and live happily and harmlessly ever after, just feeding on animals maybe or that blood bank the kid used earlier, or even find a way to return to their slumber. But no, they’re not even given a chance. This aspect provides some weight to one of those sequels which gives the impression of being dashed off rather quickly. Much simpler than Mr Vampire despite it awkwardly introducing us to its second and third subplots around 25 and 35 minutes in, and barely even featuring any martial arts even though Yuen Baio makes a return and a third of its running time seems to consist of people fighting vampires with lots of wirework, it also feels somewhat aimed at children who might love its little vampire [but might cry their eyes out at the end], while the horror is even more diluted. Repetitious and a bit restricted until the final act, there’s nonetheless a lot of stuff to enjoy here if you’re able to put closer to the back of your mind how magical Mr Vampire, a film where everything seemed to come together almost perfectly.

We begin with a pan over some hills to zoom into a few houses. Three men are digging there, and the oldest of them Kwok [Fat Chung excellent in a non-typical part] finds a valuable plate and laughs with joy. One of his assistants Chicken also unearths a plate, but Kwok tells him that it’s only worth a few pence and on the back it has MADE IN HONG KONG printed on it. Well, I laughed. Sashimi is chosen to go first into a cave because he moves the slowest out of the three, and falls down a shaft onto some skulls to have a snake crawling up him under his clothes. The interplay and chemistry between the three characters and the actors playing them – Fat Chung, Lau-Chau Sang and Billy Lau – is great here and one almost wishes that they stayed as the main characters. Eventually they find these upright coffins and Kwok decides that the vampires inside should be taken back to his house where both assistants take a shine to the female vampire, Sashimi wanting to take her clothes off to wash her. Sashimi accompanies Kwok in the van to sell the vampire boy, but wind blows the talisman that he has on his face off and he’s alive, leading to a comedy set piece where he keeps turning the radio back on from several feet away, sitting behind the other two, and Kwok thinks it’s Sashimi doing it. It’s quite amusing if rather cutesy, but setting the tone for much of what’s to come. Meanwhile back in the house Chicken stupidly removes the talismans of the parents but regrets it when he reads what their purpose was. The mother comes to life first, blowing kisses, licking his neck and grabbing his balls in what comes across as a spoof of your typical Hammer-style vampire movie scene where a hapless male is entranced by a sexy female vampire. There follows the first of the film’s four lengthy but non-martial arts fights, and you have to laugh when the vampires are made to headbutt each other, or when Chicken is being chased by the mother who’s floating just slightly above the ground. Eventually the other two return, and after more mayhem the vampires are partially immobolised, but for how long?

Meanwhile the boy vampire is mistaken for an immigrant by a young girl named Chia-Chai, after she see on TV child illegal immigrants from China and hears that they are “Cold, hungry, and don’t go out in the day”. In scenes inspired by E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, her brother and friends grow to like him to after some initial fear, though she wants to keep him a secret from her dad Wu. The first Mr Vampire had some diverse elements, but it wasn’t brave enough to include a goofy, kid-pandering montage of some children doing lots of nice things with a boy vampire. Just when you think that this is all that the majority of the rest of the film is going to be about now, we finally, around half way through, meet the person who I guess is Mr. Vampire himself, Lam Ching-Ying, now in the form of Dr. Yam, plus his daughter Gigi and his best student Yen who wants to marry Gigi. Cheeky Yen, being a journalist [cue for him to often want to take pictures whatever’s happening] not just wants to turn the place into a camera shop when Yam says it will be his if he marries Gigi, but winds him up by saying he’s already slept with her. But then Yam has to tend to the bitten Chicken, and the pretty gross-looking bite is familiar to him. There’s a lovely moment when Yam puts on his traditional robe and head garment over his 20th Century shirt and trousers just before he enters Kwok’s place. Archaeologists trying to make amends for their mess, the antics of a vampire kid trying to integrate into family life, and the one-eyebrowed priest, his daughter and his prospective son-in-law fighting vampires; the three subplots don’t jell smoothly and Moon Lee as Gigi disappears three quarters of the way through, but the energy certainly ramps up as we’re given the unusual image of vampires hopping from car to car in a road, machine guns and a bazooka are pulled out, and our hearts are tugged at when the boy vampire sees his parents on TV and lets out a very sad cry.

The brawls are inventive in their use of props and the choreography impresses, but despite being choreographed by Sammo Hung they outstay their welcome, which may not have happened if they contained a lot of martial arts; all we get is the odd move here and there. The one where everyone is affected by something called Retarder which slows people down just becomes tedious. The more family friendly approach, despite a jokey reference to AIDS similar to the one in The Iceman Cometh and a discussion set up just so that a kid can tell his dad to masturbate, has us hearing on the news that the vampires are killing people yet we don’t see a single death, and there being no real horror moments except for a vampire hand threatening somebody hiding in a cupboard, with even that being diluted by a repeated gag during it involving the loss of clothes. The vampires are just not threatening and are given too many closeups, though one wonders if these are a different kind of vampire anyway, what with the way that they emote in a human fashion in contrast to the total lack of emotion displayed before, and we do both buy and care about the friendship between young girl and vampire boy. One gag, an attempt to drive a wooden sword [not a stake as in western vampires] into a vampire covered in ice, has some logic to it. The best comedy sequence might be when police and museum people argue over who should have possession of vampire bodies; it has the great line “Just have your wife wear a Ching outfit and sleep in a glass cage”. The wordplay translates rather well to western viewers. By contrast, the last act, despite the very final moment which attempts and I suppose succeeds in being surprising, frightening and funny all at the same time, has a curious grimness and intensity about it which suggests that director Ricky Lau and the extremely prolific [with some real classics to his name in addition to Mr Vampire] screenwriter Barry Wong weren’t quite sure what they really wanted to do with this sequel.

Despite Arthur Wong being behind the camera again, albeit along with three other credited cinematographers, visually it’s a fairly ordinary piece without the flourishes you sometimes got in the original; night time scenes look especially flat and uninteresting, though there are some nice character compositions. It’s disappointing that Ching-Ying gets a lot less screen-time this time around, something that casting Biao in a central role doesn’t really atone for seeing as Baio doesn’t do anything cool, though  does interestingly play this modern day variant of his original character differently ; less comical, more serious, even if, when asked who he is near the end, he calls himself “Lam Ching-Ying” and refers to Encounters Of The Spooky Kind, The Dead And The Deadly and Mr Vampire! The folk who play the vampires – Cheung Wing-Cheung, Pauline Wong and Kin-Wai Ho – impress: they can’t say anything yet act well with their faces while keeping it restrained, as should probably be the case. Some of the usual suspects show up in cameos; Wu Man, James Tien, Stanley Fong etc. The music score by Anders Nelsson has its oddities with electronic stings, harpsichord passages, and a theme for the boy and a girl sounding like it’s coming from an ice cream van. In some respects a rather curious effort, Mr Vampire 2 is a major dip from its predecessor, but offers much charm and chuckles, even if you may be unsure as to who the good guys and the bad guys are.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

 

SPECIAL FEATURES

1080p HD presentation from brand new 2K restoration
Mr Vampire 2 pops out at the viewer with its superb restoration. Grain is evenly managed, detail is clear, blacks are crisp. Extremely impressive!

Cantonese mono audio

English mono audio
Mr Vampire 2 seems to be the only one of the films in this set for which an English dub was done. I switched over to it a few times. It’s an average example of its kind.

Brand new feature length audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng [NY Asian Film Festival]
It’s no surprise that Djeng takes some breathers in the second half of his commentary here; he races through earlier parts, especially when giving mini biographies, some of which may not have been necessary since Djeng did ones for some of the same people before, and these things are my audio commentary bugbear, but I admire Djeng for racing through them as quickly as possible. He exudes enthusiasm for what he says is his favourite of the series, citing its humour, its mostly family-friendly approach, and it being so different to the first film as his reasons. He does repeat a few things from previous tracks, such as telling us that those magnetic card could open doors, though I didn’t remember his great story about accidently appearing as an extra alongside Fong and appearing on TV even though he’s never seen it himself. He describes very recently visiting the Golden Harvest studio location which is now an apartment block and giving Manfred Wong a Eureka Blu-ray of Duel To The Death which he wrote. It must be hard to do so many of these and never seem tired or bored, but Djeng has achieved this so far.

Extended scenes [6 mins]
I’m assuming that these bits were in the Taiwanese or Singaporian version as it’s often the edits for those which are longer than the Hong Kong cuts. The four scene extensions here don’t add much. There’s a tiny comic fight between Chicken and Sashimi just before Kwok tells Chicken to stay behind while he delivers the boy vampire, a little bit more of Chicken vs the two adult vampires, Wu, Chia Chia and her brother involved in a lengthy verbal gag which doesn’t quite come off, and a longer montage of the boy vampire and the children. The footage has also been restored, so it’s a surprise that it hasn’t been re-inserted to the film.

Trailer

 

 

MR VAMPIRE III [1987]

AKA LING WAN SIN SANG

RUNNING TIME: 88 mins

Uncle Ming likes to uses his two ghostly nephews Big Pao and Little Pao to scam people, by using them to do hauntings, after which he then gets himself hired to get rid of them. After an encounter with real spirits,  the trio go to a nearby town. However, it’s under attack by a group of bandits with supernatural powers led by Devil Lady, a powerful evil sorceress intent on destroying the town and everyone in it. Defending it is Uncle Nine who’s trying to train his subordinate Captain Chiang into becoming a magical priest like him. When the Paos play tricks on Nine’s subordinate Captain Chiang who sees them, Nine imprisons the two spirits, believing that humans and ghosts cannot co-exist peacefully….

General movie lovers probably tended not to know who he was even if they’d seen a few Hong Kong movies from the Golden Age, but real Hong Kong movie fans all over the world were very saddened by the death of Richard Ng just a few weeks ago on April the 9th, from cardiac arrest at the age of 83. One of the best loved of the funnymen who turned up in so many films, if often just for a minute, Ng became popular largely due to his roles in the Lucky Stars and Pom Pom franchises, and made memorable appearances in Miracles: The Canton Godfather, Millionaire’s Express and Royal Warriors, the latter really showing that, as well as being possessing great comic timing and an ability to be subtly funny when everyone around him was mugging [oh, and being just brilliant at double takes], he could be a good dramatic actor when given the chance. After the insane brilliance of those glory years had died down, Ng did continue to appear in movies for many years and even on British TV, though one feels that his true potential went untapped. I’m going to dedicate this review to him, because Mr Vampire 3 gives him loads of screen time and is a fine showcase for his comedic skills with a lot of funny scenes for him to do. It’s a pretty fine film all round, easily besting Mr Vampire 2 and sometimes approaching the genius of Mr Vampire with its impressive energy and invention. Even if it only has a bit more martial arts than Mr Vampire does, it perfects the wire-heavy, throwing around, magic-employing style of fighting that Mr Vampire 2 adopted and slightly fell down with, in a series of striking confrontations where you can sense screenwriters Wing-Keung Lo and Cheuk-Hon Szeto brainstorming and throwing in whatever they came up with. The Sammo Hung stunt team take the art of jumping and falling to ever higher levels, yet also some of the pathos of Mr Vampire 2 returns and never strikes a false note. There’s only one vampire [and even that’s debatable], but we do get ghosts [one of them deep fried], possession by said ghosts, zombies and a terrific witch main villain. And how can one not love a film which has the line, “These are no ordinary humans, I think….they could be magicians”.

Having the first shot of a courtyard in sepia is a nice idea; maybe this was done to clue the audience at the time into the fact that, after the modern-set Mr Vampire 2, the series was now returning to the past? In the courtyard, Uncle Ming has answered a cry for help. “We’ve been thrown from our beds by ghosts every single night”, says the head of the household. “With me here, you’ve no need to fear” Ming assures him. “You’re the tenth Taoist who’s said that to me, the previous nine could do nothing about them” responds the other guy. “Nine out of ten Taoists are unreliable, I’m the tenth” says Ming, who’s excited when the man pulls out a wad of cash which he thinks he’s going to give to him but instead pulls out from the notes a fortune cookie. This person will only pay upon completion of the job. Now follows a terrific send-up, with Ng doing silly movements, jumping about, and using nonsense ritual things like hurling two scrolls crying “A placenta from the human world, a wax umbrella from the spiritual world, are what I offer to you“. A man and a ghost spook appear, along with a fun gag where one of the ghosts keeps floating behind him and pulling him back yet moving out of the range of his eye sight when he looks in her direction. In actual fact these may be real ghosts but all this is being staged, with the ghosts getting rather carried away in hurting Ming. “You told me to be serious”.Not that serious”.  Ming then asks the house owner to put more and more money notes on his forehead in place of the usual talismans, and all seems good, until the man remarks “Strange, the ghost we saw was always a female ghost”. Ming is then harassed by a female spirit in a white cloak and hood, followed by her large family who are irate because the house had been built on their family grave, and his ghost mates have to help out, though they can’t subdue them and in the end just have to run away. This whole sequence is a great example of how well Hong Kong filmmakers back in the day could do comedy with some added thrills and chills!

Ming and his two hidden cohorts, who now dress in what looks like vinyl for some reason, have to flee to the next village, where he’s immediately accosted by people who think he’s a bandit but rescued by Pau who is, of course, Mr. One-Eyebrow himself in a third incarnation [even though this is a period piece Lam Ching-Ying is clearly playing a different if undeniably very similar character] and thankfully appearing earlier than he did in the previous film. Someone alerts him to the fact that “The horse thieves” are coming, and coming they are, in effective slow motion for a few shots, while Uncle Nine, his chief disciple Chiang, and lots of armed villagers prepare to defend. And yes; if you also like your Hammer Horror this will remind you a bit of their horror / martial arts collaboration they made with Shaw Brothers The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires, a film which a lot of people including myself can’t help but love yet which undeniably fell somewhat short of what it could have been. Here we get a good amount of proper combat with a variety of weapons and laughs mixed in but not so that they detract from the excitement, a hard thing to pull off but something that Hong Kong movies often achieved, such as with a lot of Jackie Chan’s greatest fights. Nine showing how to dispatch a wizard and others not quite being able to pull it off is a good example, as is the exchange between him and Chiang: “Chiang I need some virgin’s wine”. “Master, I already lost my virginity on a blustery night”. “‘Use mine then”.  Things are enhanced by magic being employed such as the conjuring up of red hot boulders out of the ground which can then be hurled at enemies, while there’s some graphic violence too, including a hand punching through a chest. Devil Lady herself soon joins the fray, but the good guys eventually win this one and even kidnap Devil Lady’s two generals. However, Devil Lady is bound to be back, and Ming seems keen to join the fight, but Nine understandably doesn’t like ghosts and wants the Pau’s to bugger off, which is rather sad for the Pau’s.

While there’s a little more actual horror in this one, most notably a genuinely scary moment of a vase cracking and the hand of the ghost inside bursting out, the middle section does rely mostly on gags. Chiang first realises that something is properly afoot with Ming when he seems to be talking to two invisible people in a restaurant [where Sammo Hung is a waiter in an ’80s waiter outfit] and ends up having chopsticks shoved down his mouth. Ming goes to look for the sealed jars into which Nine has put the Paos and finds himself in a room with loads of the things, one containing a man who’s alive and another a sexy female ghost who makes out that she’s his until Nine comes in to ruin his chances. After all, as Nine says, ghosts “Bring poverty, misery, failure, tragedy, shame, suffering, deterioration, sadness and death”. A scene where Chiang covers himself in soot so that ghosts can’t see him is a real highlight, even if you know that Chiang will probably have left gaps, but the best comedy bit has Big Pao possessed so he can attack Nine but going for Ming instead because he’s wearing Nine’s traditional robe; he sees him as an eagle so you get him chasing a guy in a silly eagle suit around in a bonkers couple of minutes. Importantly the pace doesn’t really slow with all this unlike some Hong Kong films, and the final third is literally nonstop action, with the villains keeping on coming because killing them once may not actually kill them for good. It’s thrilling enough for us not to miss punching and kicking. At one point the mayhem goes down a well, reminding us of Ringu much later, even though the Devil Lady’s burnt face makeup looks like it’s almost falling off; the walls of a set wobble too. But who really cares? We’re having so much fun here – yet we’re also caring about the plight of the Paos who are told to leave even though they’ve done nothing wrong except defend their master when he’s been harassed. And as for the “vampire”; it’s got fangs but doesn’t hop. You be the judge.

Billy Lau played Chicken in Mr Vampire 2; here his role as Chiang is larger and his very broad playing gets tiring. Nine is shown to be rather flawed in contrast to the two previous Lam Ching-Ying versions of the character; he’s narrow minded in his views about the supernatural, the film proving to him that not all ghosts are bad. Ching-Ying is slightly going through the motions here but that’s hardly surprising. We enjoy seeing Ming finding some goodness within himself. Ng played similar parts, so he’d already done much of what we see him do here, but he pulls it all off superbly, and there are dramatic moments he’s required to do, even if they’re small, so as a whole this is a fine showcase for his skills as a performer. Oh, and he gets naked again. Wu Ma appears again briefly; god I love this guy, he has such a unique presence! Little Po is played by Kin-Wai Ho, the vampire boy in Mr Vampire 2, and that film’s female ghost Pauline Wong makes for a terrific Devil Lady; she may rip the head off an iguana [for real] but is also allowed some poignancy when she sees subordinates captured and being killed before her very eyes; there’s a bit of the Mr Vampire 2 unsureness of who we’re meant to back here. There are some good special effects moments, such as Little Pao being literally folded up and a brief attack by bats; closeups of real bats intercut with lots of models work are  followed by some unfortunate lingering upon a silly toy one. Lui Kuan-Wei’s cinematography often soars in the nighttime sequences, while the sharp cutting of editor Peter Cheung is at its peak. Chin-Yung Shing’s musical store has some nice tender moments and the usual comical backing for humorous bits, though much of the action sounds like it’s been scored with library music which is very “western” in its feel. It all comes together rather well. After the interesting but decidedly inferior Mr Vampire 2, Mr Vampire 3 came to be as a bit of a surprise. A bit neglected probably because it’s a sequel, it deserves more attention and considerable reappraisal as a very fresh-seeming and expertly balanced comedy action horror in its own right.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★½☆

 

SPECIAL FEATURES

1080p HD presentation from brand new 2K restoration
Mr Vampire 3 looks even better than Mr Vampire 2 with the exception of a few slightly murky night time moments which could be more down to its original look; it’s easy to forget that these films tended to be pretty cheap. The shots where bright colours appear are often striking.

Cantonese mono audio

Original mono

Home video mix

Brand new feature length audio commentary by action cinema experts Mike Leeder & Arne Venema
A fantastically fun film deserves a fantastically fun commentary. Oh my god the twosome are on form here,  right from the beginning with this exchange, “How do you know all this? Do you fight Chinese vampires on a regular basis”? “Every Sunday”.  Their banter is often amusing but is also extremely informative. We learn that Bruce Lee used to keep getting Lam out of fights, that Ching-Ying was buried in his Mr Vampire outfit rather like Bela Lugosi was buried in his Dracula costume, and that Amy Yip got annoyed and thought she’d had a lot of bad luck due to a lot of people drawing pictures of her on pieces of paper to accompanying deceased relatives or friends of people to the netherworld. The conversation goes in many directions but never loses our interest. We even get a double entendre, Leeder saying that the bottom rubbing “Is handled very well“, though I must day I didn’t associate chopstick swallowing in one scene with fellatio. Some of the rituals are explained too. Hearing that Ng is currently “Battling some health problems” is of course very sad. Overall though – wonderful!

Brand new feature length audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng and film writer John Charles [The Hong Kong Filmography, 1977–1997]
Mr Vampire 3 has been treated to a second commentary, one which reunites Djeng with Charles after doing duties together on the Eureka eight-film Joseph Kuo set. Quite soon we’re informed of something that, being not at all knowledgeable in such things, I didn’t know [except for the opening Ng sequence of course]; that some of the many rituals depicted are fake. They seem to be watching an earlier version, commenting that the subtitles are poor and don’t allow some of the jokes to come through, though some of them still don’t, even with new subtitles! Djeng prefers the humour in 2, though I have to say that I laughed more at 3. I found it especially interesting that in Chinese culture you can’t use the word “Death” when talking about the subject. Djeng revealingly says that he was told he wasn’t explaining enough about the rituals in his Mr Vampire commentary and felt he needed to compensate; I certainly didn’t feel that way, but it worked out well in the end because we learn a great deal in his track here. Also interesting is that he and Charles aren’t sure if the requiring of “Nine black dogs” was a genuine practice or not; Leeder and Venema think it was!

Trailer

 

Taoist Cinema: The World of Mr Vampire  [11 mins]
Venema narrates and seemingly put together this great little piece where a genuine Taoist priest with great knowledge of the supernatural is asked some questions as to the authenticity of some of what we see in these films, a subject that the commentaries also look at but it’s undeniably a fascinating one. We learn that Ching=Ying impressed the advisors with his commanding look and especially his eyes so much that they advised that the camera concentrate on his face, about weapons [the mirror is not just effective because it shows the ghost it’s real look but because it’s a gateway to another dimension which ghosts don’t like to go], and that the origins of the Chinese vampire lie in the transporting of corpses to be preserved before they began to rot during an epidemic which made it look like they were hopping. I wish this featurette was much longer, but we need to remember that the money isn’t flowing to finance these releases in the dying days [unfortunately] of physical media.

 

 

 

DISC TWO

MR VAMPIRE IV [1988]

AKA GEUNG SEE SUK SUK, UNCLE VAMPIRE

96 mins

Two priests live next to each other in the countryside village;  the bespectacled Four-eyed Taoist and a Buddhist monk called Master Yat-yau. They don’t particularly like each other and keep playing pranks which tend to escalate. When Four-eyed Taoist gets a female student Ching-ching, Yat-sun’s student Chia-lok is immediately besotted with her, but his attentions are restricted when the stern, tough Four-eyed returns from a trip. Then one day a convoy of soldiers escorting a coffin passes by their houses, consisting of Four-eyed’s junior, Taoist Crane, and Crane’s four disciples, as well as a young prince and his bodyguards. Inside the coffin is a vampire being taken to the Emperor to be inspected. During a thunderstorm that night, rainwater washes away the magical charms on the coffin and the vampire breaks out. Can our bickering priests set aside their differences?

One of the things I really like about the Mr Vampire series is the way that each film brings some fresh ingredients to the table, with surprisingly little slavish repeating of what came before. This is in contrast to, for example, the Dracula films from Hammer Films; most of them are good and two of them are superb, but let’s face it; they do repeat each other a lot, with much rehashing of the same ideas and situations, while Christopher Lee often expressed frustration at not being given much to do. It was only with the sixth or seventh [depending on whether you include the non-Dracula Brides Of Dracula or not] film that the studio tried to do something different with the character, and it didn’t work at all. But with the Mr Vampire series each instalment makes a praiseworthy effort to be different, with Mr Vampire 4 [which is bizarrely called Mr Vampire Saga on the IMDB] certainly being one of them, especially in its first half. Seemingly made on a lower budget and therefore more restricted in scale with it being set entirely in and around two houses, it might be the most charming of the films so far and even the most philosophical too. And it has Wu Ma, who made tiny appearances in the last too, in one of the lead roles, which would make it an extremely worthwhile and rewarding endeavour even if it didn’t contain many other good features. With the exception of one elaborate if slightly pointless sequence the first half is entirely devoted to comedy, most of it consisting of two old men behaving like children, but so well pulled off that we most certainly aren’t shuffling in our seats waiting for a vampire or a ghost to show up. The action-filled second half is in some ways less interesting than the first, but maintains the superb choreography and good balancing of thrills and humour that we’ve come to expect, and in one lengthy scene offer some full-on martial arts, courtesy chiefly of Chin Kar Lok. As for Lam Ching-Ying, despite his considerable coolness he’s hardly missed.

Having the titles take place over a white background on to which fields, trees, a house, and another house joined on to it are drawn is a nice beginning and should clue the viewer into the fact that some of the things that ought to make up a film called Mr Vampire 4 might be in short supply. The drawings become reality and we have Yat-yau returning home having collected his new student Ching-Ching while the master next door, Four-eyed Taoist, is away, leaving his student Chia-lok free to bathe in lakes and catch fish. Yat-yau pretends to be Yat-yau and tell Chia-lok off, so the latter challenges the old guy to race carrying jugs of water. He soon takes the lead, but then slips over on mud, causing Chia-lok to take the lead and win. “Speed is no use, you need steadfallness” Chia-lok rightly says. He’s big on his rituals, but Yat-yau is a nice, laid back guy. He introduces Chia-lok to Ching-ching, but she turns violent when he accidently picks her up and gropes her breasts, thinking that she’s a man. To calm her down, Chia-lok makes a show of beating the poor lad, and possibly goes over the top, but it was all for good, surely? Meanwhile Four-eyed Taoist is introduced out in the forest herding some vampires for no apparent reason,  but chuckles result as they have to navigate through the trees and at one point fall over like dominoes. Then a female spirit, played by Pauline Wong in her third appearance in this series, shows up to fight Four-eyed, then blow bubbles and glowing red kisses in an effort to seduce him. Her human hand stroking him becomes a furry animal hand clawing him; Four-eyed slays her and she reverts to the form of a fox – well, a human / fox hybrid anyway.  The vampires are with him when he arrives home but, after being used as part of a lukewarm gag about waking Chia-lok up, they totally disappear from the film. I kept waiting for them to make their reappearance, possibly on the side of good, and it never happened, which was rather disappointing.

It soon becomes obvious that the Taoist and the Buddhist are always at odds with each other. Granted, they teach and live in different ways, with Four-eyed being much more about force and strictness, but is that really any excuse for them to be the way that they are? The tricks that they play on each other seem more mean-spirited than good-natured and aren’t exactly enjoyed by the recipients, while Chia-Lok fancies Ching-Ching but can’t seem to be able to spend much time with because Four-eyed always keeps a close eye on him. The film is almost half way through before the focus changes, but I don’t think that many viewers will be bored because the gags are mostly pretty funny and Ma and Anthony Chan give terrific comedic performances. But eventually this coffin shows up being borne past the two houses by a convoy which includes a boy prince and Yen Wah as a very camp, effeminate and cowardly eunuch, a representation that might make some modern viewers feel uncomfortable though if you’ve seen a few of these films you’d hopefully know not to expect political correctness. After a chat and the giving of some rice the convoy moves on, but that night it rains heavily, and the water washes away the talismans on the coffin. Out comes the vampire, and a genuinely mean looking one too, to defeat and kill mostly everyone there. Soon there are some more vampires, or should I say half-human and half-vampire beings: they come back to life quickly but I assume that it takes several nights before they become actual vampires. The first sight of these creatures moving in very odd ways while a wailing is heard on the soundtrack is genuinely creepy, though of course we’re quickly asked to see their funny side too. Chia-lok can defend himself and so can Ching-Ching, but of course what we really need is for Four-eyed and Yat-Yau to team up. The moment when they do is one of those where you feel like cheering.

Our two masters first bicker over a table leading to the table being moved all over the place, then a foot fight where Yat-yau blows beans out of his nose into Four-eyed’s mouth. Other comedy highlights [or lowlights if you don’t like this type of humour but then you probably wouldn’t buy this set if you didn’t] include fun with a voodoo doll including Four-eyed being propelled on a firecracker into a wall, and Four-eyed getting his sword which is massive – and which quickly breaks. A fairly long set piece where Chia-lok and Ching-Ching are pretending to be vampires for safety doesn’t quite work as well as it should, but I’m happy to say that, after its employment in the third film, bottom pinching makes a return. This one’s even heavier on the rituals, sometime showing more mockery, though I have the feeling that bathing in hot water, ice and snakes [to scratch the body] might very well heal a weakened body that’s possesses some fang markings. The action is mostly the expected wirework and magic tricks with bits of slapstick and perhaps slightly more special effects than before, though Kar-Lok really shows off his great fighting skills and ability in his major sequence, executing some tremendous kicks and leaps; of course wires and editing help but he’s clearly still doing a hell of a lot. He’s helped a little by Loletta Lee as Ching-Ching, though she’s never really allowed to flourish fight-wise. Similarly, Chia-lok seems to forget he can fight well in the climax, but it’s all still pretty exciting because this vampire really does seem unkileable. The way it’s eventually killed is inventive but also has logic to it. And these vampires, unusually for Chinese ones, actually drink blood. There’s a lot less brutality here than in 3, though we do get an unpleasant teeth removal right in the middle of a comical sequence.

Chan and Ma share incredible chemistry and one wishes that they’d been able to star together again. The more spiritual attitude adopted by Ma’s character immediately makes him the more likeable, but of course we also need tough warriors like Chans. Perhaps the scene that most succinctly sums up Four-eyed and Yat-yau is when somebody kills himself: Four-eyed considers it to be a brave and praiseworthy thing that the man did, but Yat-Yau thinks it was wasteful, pointless and sad. Even if this is the most simply plotted film in the series so far, screenwriter Lo Wing-Keung sometimes seems to be attempting just a little bit of depth in his script, while never forgetting that it’s really all about having fun. The  cinematography is credited to three people -Abdul M. Rumjahn, Tom Lau and Bill Wong. Less sets are used than in any of the other films, and there are times where it seems like the best photographed, especially when it’s depicting the rural setting which is apparently near where Mike Leeder [of the audio commentaries] lives. Shing Chin-Yung’s musical score opens with a catchy, light theme which almost dominates for a while, though the temptation to go all out with the comedy music is just about resisted; the action music is back to having that usual synthesiser Hong Kong movie sound and harmonies. Quirky and at times actually quite thought provoking, Mr Vampire 3 makes the very most of a cut-back budget to give us the most low-key but also the most beguiling of the films in this set.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

 

SPECIAL FEATURES

1080p HD presentation from brand new HD restoration
I’ll be honest with you; my home setup isn’t an elaborate one, nor is my screen huge, so I couldn’t really tell that, after two 2k restorations, this third one was just normal HD. The crispness, the detail and the colour balance seemed all just as spot on my eyes.

Cantonese mono audio

Brand new feature length audio commentary by action cinema experts Mike Leeder & Arne Venema
Another hugely entertaining and informative track which spends a bit too much on biographies for my personal liking [and did we have to hear about Demon Hunter again?] but possibly exudes the warmth these two guys share better than any other; Venema laughing while Leeder pleads “I’m not perfect, I make mistakes” is a highlight. Pathways gone down include the history of Cantopop, actors having their names changed in the Phillipines [Donnie Yen is Michael Ryan], and the hilarious fact that a film [Just Heroes] was shot to fund Chang Cheh’s retirement with a lot of people working for free, only for Cheh to take the money and make a few more films. We also learn that the device of a character calling relatives and becoming stronger was once a real belief. Both do really like the film, though Venema wishes that some scenes were darker so the horror could have been played up.

Trailer

 

 

VAMPIRE VS VAMPIRE [1989]

AKA YEI MAI DAO REN

RUNNING TIME: 84 mins

Chinese exorcist One-Eyebrow Priest leads a peaceful life with two disciples Ah Ho and Ah Fong in a small town together with a mischievous boy vampire. Well, he did lead a peaceful life. An increasing number of supernatural occurrences have taken place, something that may have some connection with nuns taking over a church where a priest once practised Satanism before disappearing. Then he discovers that the water supply has been contaminated by bats, while Ho and Fong unintentionally awaken a lady ghost; their visions of her reveal that she was a nightclub singer who was killed by having acid thrown in her face, so they need to go and lay her corpse to rest. But meanwhile excavation of the land unearths the tomb of a certain priest who has a silver, ruby-encrusted cross wedged in his chest. A greedy general wants the ruby for himself and decides to remove the cross….

I’ve liked these films a lot, I really have, and that includes for the most part the humour which is something which doesn’t always travel well and is often very personal, but sometimes whilst watching them I have, being a big lover of the horror genre and especially vampires, wondered what they would be like if the laughs were lessened and the horror side of things was exploited far more. It seems that I’m not alone, with Messrs Leeder and Venema from the audio commentaries clearly being of the same mind. Well, Vampire Vs Vampire, which I suppose you could call Mr Vampire 5 except that it’s not officially part of the series [but is part of the franchise] while Magic Cop, another modern day version, seems to be sometimes called that, does lean a bit more heavily on the horror element, with a genuine sense of fear enveloping much of the first half and scenes of terror being allowed to play out without or with less humour, which might be just as well seeing as said humour is a lot spottier than before, often lacking the cleverness and even wit that could be found in the previous films in this series. Lam Ching-Ying took over the role of directing for this one, and he does attempt to provide a feel which is different to the others while also giving his character more to do, but then this incarnation of Mr Vampire is different too, being a cheekier, more playful person even if he still projects the aura that he’s a master of ridding us of the undead. The seeming randomness of the plot for a while almost gives the impression that a load of scenes were placed in any old order, with Lam not as strong as Ricky Lau in keeping control of story, but things do eventually tie in so that eventually we realise that we’re watching a semi-remake of the first film, and the final third could be the most exciting of the films in this set. While missing our hopping friends much like Vampire 3, it instead gives us an honest-to-goodness western vampire, and he’s quite memorable even if he doesn’t say anything, with a swirling black cloak, blood-shot eyes and truly disgusting teeth.

We don’t get comedic music here for the opening; it’s all serious gloomy droning, while the title of the film is written out on screen accompanied by a scraping sound. A shot of an eclipse leads to a voiceover which tells us evil creatures run loose when this phenomena occurs, though it’s never referred to again in the film, a strange decision by screenwriters Kam Cheong Chan, Chi-Leung Shum and Mei-Yee Sze, unless of course it was a case of overlooking. We’re then introduced to Ho and Fong entering a house at night; they’ve been told by their master to fix the roof so that no moonlight is able to shine on the jars containing spirits in there; it could cause them to break out is it does. However, a loose tile and a fall off a ladder leads to some dark red gunk to ooze from one of the jars and form a little fanged puppet monster, though it’s then stamped on and killed by a match being thrown inside it before it was even seen. Then they go to seal a coffin but clumsily knock the lid off; it’s empty anyway, and the inhabitant immediately reveals himself to be a young boy vampire [even though the coffin was way too big for him] goofing around, played by Kin-Wai Ho in his third consecutive role in this series which partly reprises his first though here he utters a sound which sounds just like a squeeky dog toy [which is probably what it is]. Thankfully One-Eyebrow Priest [“no wonder my eyebrow twitched all night”], is up and about and, after picking up the boy [there’s more unnamed characters in this one than all the previous entries] hangs hangs him up on the wall, paints words on his neck and puts red hair up his nostrils to burn the bite out, which presumably stops him from wanting to bite people, as does giving him tomatoes, but which still allows to muck about, such as touching and being sort of electrocuted by One-Eyebrow’s coin sword which then flies towards him and almost kills him. This time around such silliness apparently required loud sound effects; I was laughing, though more at the craziness than anything else. As with the portions featuring the boy vampire in Mr Vampire 2, the comparable ones here give the impression that this film was aimed at kids, yet the horror content is much stronger than in that film!

Eventually the scene switches to the house and garden of Chi Lei Kan whose brother is bewitched by a tree that’s turned into a spirit, and we get some really atmospheric cinematography from Kwan Chi-Kan and some real suspense as Ho and Fong have to lure the spirit to them, both of them being suitable for such a task because they’re virgins. One-Eyebrow does his stuff, but Ho and Fong don’t get paid by him and try to get the boy vampire to get the money for them, while One-Eyebrow is told by the Village Elder that strange things are happening and something is off with the village’s feng shui which One-Eyebrow proves by revealing that the water being contaminated by bats, though he’s able to easily locate fresh water. A General, played by Billy Lau in also his third role in the series, shows up with his cousin / girlfriend just do goof around for a while, then the focus switches for a while to this church that the General wants to burn down because there might be bats in it. The Mother Superior won’t allow One-Eyebrow into a locked room, so he throws a burning talisman under the door so he can get in. Inside is the skeleton of a Father Kei who committed suicide after being possessed; apparently another priest just disappeared. Ho and Fong are meanwhile busy with another female ghost who briefly possesses both Ho and Fong so they know who she was and how she died; she wants to find a good body to reincarnate in, so of course Fong thinks it’s a good opportunity to go to a brothel. They soon encounter human villainy, but a far greater evil is about to come to life with the excavation of said other priest’s body; the General and his girl switch bodies around so that they have the corpse in their possession so they can take the ruby on the cross in his chest. A real sense of fear dominates for a while which no gags can get rid of. The General cuts his face and the blood pours onto the body; a powerful European vampire is soon on the loose, the biting of his first victim, shown in surprising closeup, allowing him to rid himself of his prior decomposed look.

Things get rather erotic, for perhaps the first time in this series despite sexy female beauties often showing up to cause trouble, when the spirit floats above Fong in her red cloak and Fong is being lifted up towards her. One-Eyebrow then shows up to battle her and for once, when a spirit is shown their reflection, we see the ugly sight. Otherwise for some time it’s much comedy, and for as many gags which don’t come off – Lam Ching-Ying not being as good at this stuff as Lau though of course the screenplay is also to blame – enough do hit the mark, usually the smaller ones. Liu Fong is reduced to pretending to be a cat at one point! I loved the moment where a villain trying to set his two dogs on Ho but the two mutts running away instead. Chin Siu-Ho is briefly allowed to show off what he can do when having to defend himself against a group of heavies then one guy, even though it’s very wire enhanced, and it ends with an amazing piece of timing when Fong [with a jar] and Siu-Ho [suddenly turning round with a kick] both strike the bad guy who’s about to whack Siu-Ho from behind with a spiked club. Once the European vampire is up, things proceed at an amazing speed and the vampire soon has an ally who features in a nice addition to the vampire movie genre which I hadn’t seen before; a vampire goes to bite someone but sees that another vampire has already been there. The nuns being menaced by bats considerably bests the similar scene in Mr Vampire 3 in terms of both choreography and special effects even if the nuns bizarrely cry “Alleluia”!. The final act contains a fantastic set piece on a rope bridge; it’s quite clever the way that we get one thrill moment on the bridge and we’re made to think that’s it, but then we get actual fighting and falling on it and, while it was obviously made easier by there being a pure black background, it’s still pretty real-looking and hair-raising. By contrast the final battle in quicksand doesn’t really convince, largely due to the set being so obvious, though it’s nicely lit so has an aesthetic quality nonetheless, reminiscent in fact of the Hammer horrors of olde with their studio sets which often made little attempt to look realistic.

Many of the daytime scenes have a rather strong yellow tint for some reason; I wouldn’t have thought this would have been due to flaws of the restoration. This is a surprisingly lavish looking production nonetheless, with detailed sets. The boy vampire saving the day twice in the same manner is rather lazy, but at least it means that the film’s title isn’t totally inaccurate, Mr Vampire really looks like he’s in proper danger, while Ching-Ying, with grey due on his hair intended to make him look older, also allows his character to hide from visiting nuns he doesn’t want to see, lose most of his clothes and fall off a bush, then have the Mother Superior sees his cock and order him to repent. The old Mr Vampire would never have stooped to such tomfoolery, but then it’s nice to see the character really lighten up here. Chin Siu-Ho and Fong Lui have nice chemistry together even if their interplay isn’t always as funny as is intended. Lau is quite annoying as the General and one wonders what the point of his character is for a while; his scenes with Sandra Kwan just come across as silly. Frank Juhas plays the European Vampire; he’s not required to do more than act scary but he has a certain presence. The usual Anders Nellson comedic and thrill music is enhanced by moody ambient sounds from Alastair Monteith-Hodge; in fact the whole film employs sound in a more over the top but also creative way than all the films which came before it. It’s pretty impressive that, this far down the line, the Mr Vampire films were still bringing new stuff to the table.

Rating: ★★★★★★★½☆☆

 

SPECIAL FEATURES

1080p HD presentation from brand new HD restoration
I’ve already mentioned the odd yellow tint to some scenes in this film. I’d like to think that this isn’t because a certain Italian movie restoration company were involved. Otherwise we get the expected high quality here, though the picture is a tad softer than Mr Vampire 4.

Cantonese mono audio

Brand new feature length audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng [NY Asian Film Festival]
I sometimes think I prefer Djeng’s tracks when he’s going solo and not being held back by having to talk to another person, even though some of his collaborations have been very good. Here we learn that Lam took nearly a year to make this expensive film, [something not really done unless your name was Jackie Chan], that Maria Cordera who plays the Mother Superior was a popular singer incorporating “Jazz, soul, blues and opera“, and tells a great story of when an army, about to attack a town which had far less troops defending it, were met by a man with a lantern sitting on the wall above the gates; the invaders suspected a trap so left. Djeng has almost as much enthusiasm for this one as he does Mr Vampire 2.

Trailer

 

Vampire Legacy [18 mins]
This second Venema featurette is another interesting piece and slightly longer too, which is a good thing. Venema talks to toymakers who’ve created a character based on the old school Chinese vampire [especially the boy in Mr Vampire 2] and even crossed it with others [such as Skeletor!], a fashion designer who does lines of clothing based on old movies including Mr Vampire, the owner of an effigy shop which shows us that the tradition is still with us but has adapted to the times, and Michael Chang who played the vampire in Sifu Vs Vampire which is one that doesn’t hop, and who found the costume very limiting. The influence of these movies continues.

 

 

SET SPECIAL FEATURES

Limited Edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling [2000 copies]

Optional English Subtitles for all films, newly translated for this release

Reversible sleeve featuring original poster art

A Limited Edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films and the Jiangshi genre by James Oliver [2000 copies]

 

 

Maybe the original still remains the best, but all four of these “Mr Vampire” sequels are amazingly fresh and inventive. I liked each one considerably, and I think that any fan of the original will feel the same after buying Eureka Entertainment’s latest treat for Hong Kong movie lovers. Saying that, there’s a lot to enjoy even if you’re not familiar with this stuff [in no way do you have had to watch the first one], and the audio commentaries and featurettes add great added value. Bravo, Eureka! Highly Recommended! 

 

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About Dr Lenera 1985 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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