Siu-hou ChinPauline WongRicky HuiAnthony Chan
Mr. Vampire
Medium: film
Year: 1985
Director: Ricky Lau
Writer: Ricky Lau, Cheuk-Hon Szeto, Barry Wong, Ying Wong
Keywords: hopping vampires, vampires, ghost, favourite
Language: Cantonese
Country: Hong Kong
Actor: Ching-Ying Lam, Siu-hou Chin, Ricky Hui, Moon Lee, Billy Lau, Pauline Wong, Anthony Chan, Wah Yuen, Ma Wu, Ha Huang, Chau Sang Lau, Yung-chiang Peng, Kai Man Tin
Format: 96 minutes
Website category: Asian
Review date: 17 February 2013
Great Scott, it's brilliant. It's the vampire film for everyone who's bored of vampire films.
It's not horror, you see. Instead it's supernatural comedy action horror, in descending priority order. It's another of those Hong Kong films that did gangbuster business in Japan, where it started a vampire craze with lots of vampire toys and merchandise. Tomoko's convinced that its many sequels included a character who was a little girl, making them even more popular with a child audience, although I haven't yet been able to track down the film she's thinking of.
Firstly, the film's main job is clearly to entertain you and make you laugh. This it does. It's full of comedy scenes and gags. These are as broad as you'd expect from a Hong Kong film and the characters have a habit of talking to themselves in semi-asides as if this were a Restoration comedy.
However at the same time, it's a film with ghosts, magic and Chinese hopping vampires. This was endlessly fascinating for me, because it's so alien and quirky. Everyone knows ad nauseum the rules of Western vampires, i.e. sunlight, stakes, garlic, etc. They've been done to death. We know what's going to happen in ordinary vampire films even before they begin. These Hong Kong vampires though come from an early Qing dynasty collection called Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio and they have the following features:
1. They hop. It's adorable! They jump along, perhaps restricted by rigor mortis. Alternatively they sometimes waddle, like Donald Duck.
2. They can be immobilised by sticking a piece of paper on their forehead, or else a dab of paint.
3. They can be repelled or even cured (!) by sticky rice.
4. They can't detect your presence if you hold your breath, although unfortunately they'll still be suspicious and will keep hopping around the general vicinity as your face turns red and/or blue. THIS IS BRILLIANT. The fun the film has with this is awesome.
5. Funeral parlours are liable to keep a gang of vampires hanging around with safety papers on their faces, like pets. They're useful. You can make them follow orders and you'll be annoyed if they accidentally catch fire. You just have to make sure their forehead-papers don't fall off.
6. They have long fingernails, painted with sky-blue nail varnish.
7. They can be immobilised by thread.
8. You need to suck out their breath, i.e. more or less kiss them.
All in one movie. How cool is that? What's more, I haven't even mentioned the snake, sacred paper, burning ink and chicken... and all that's just the vampire! There's also a ghost (Wong Siu-fung). She has nothing to do with the vampires and crops up simply because this is a supernatural film and so why shouldn't there also be a beautiful flying woman with a palanquin and four disappearing doll-faced porters? You might call her a seductress or even a succubus, but I loved the fact that she's not entirely unsympathetic even though her attentions will eventually be fatal.
Even our heroes can do magic. Lam Ching-ying is a priest specialising in Taoist supernatural arts and amazing monobrows. That's necessary for the plot because you need a magician to fight the hopping vampires, but at one point his students (Ricky Hui and Chin Siu-ho) for laughs put a curse on someone using a strand of hair. This is a scene of low comedy, practical jokes and partial male nudity. It's funny.
Then there's the Hong Kong action. You don't want to mess with a hopping vampire. Like Western vampires, they're super-strong and indestructible except via certain quirky weaknesses. They might look and act like unusually lively zombies, but they can do kung fu. This is great too. I'm not normally a fan of kung fu films, but kung fu with hopping vampires is something everyone should see. There are visual gags like, for instance, Chin Siu-ho scissoring his legs around the vampire's neck and realising he's thus about to get bitten where every man would want this the least.
Then finally, at the very end of the list, comes horror. It's not horror, of course. You could show this to children and indeed it was wildly popular with them. Doctor Who goes further than this. However there's still a frisson from doing silly comedy and martial arts stunts with the undead. Wong Siu-fung meanwhile is eerie and somewhat atmospheric, although not scary, while I appreciated the fact that our heroes get themselves in deeper trouble than you might expect even in a proper horror movie. Goofy gags from heroes are funny. Goofy gags from heroes who are trying to bite out their friends' throats are even funnier.
Things I learned from watching this film: jumping around and dancing non-stop is what you do if you're worried about poison spreading through your body.
This film has everything (except female nudity, darn). It has a gorilla costume. It has weird Chinese coffins and gravestones that can talk to you. It has spectacular vampire cremations, including one who's still on the move during an action scene despite the fact that he's a walking Roman candle. It has a dim vampire who needs help to hop up some steps. It has a four-way supernatural fight towards the end. It also has comedy that capable of being by turns outrageously broad and then surprisingly subtle and character-based. "I'll protect you!" says Ricky Hui, for instance, then ten seconds later is hiding behind the girl (Moon Lee). I particularly enjoyed the comedy of manners in the Western tea room, while soon afterwards "don't be disrespectful just because she's a hooker" was in slightly dubious taste but amusing too. I'll definitely be watching the sequels.
"He's only ruined half your life. Your descendants will be fine."