Director – Ricky Lau – 1985 – Hong Kong – Cert. 15 – 94m
This review originally appeared in Manga Mania to coincide with the film’s UK VHS release from Made In Hong Kong. Running time as on VHS sleeve. See also my All The Anime review coinciding with the 2020 Eureka! Blu-ray.
The Far East views vampires through completely different cultural baggage, the extraordinary result of which can be seen in seminal Hong Kong period horror outing Mr. Vampire (1985) – which spawned several sequels and influenced countless genre outings both in Hong Kong live action and Japanese animation.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Encounters Of The Spooky Kind (1980) sees director Sammo Hung spend the night in a haunted house where he encounters various undead manifestations. It’s no surprise that Hung acted as producer on the later Mr. Vampire, where director Ricky Lau distilled Chinese cadaver / vampire mythology into a subsequent industry staple. As Lam Ching-ying so clearly explains in Mr. Vampire: “There are good men and bad men…corpses and vampires…this corpse is turning into a vampire.” Producer and director went on to make Mr. Vampire 2, 3 and 4, all with corpse‑busting star Lam Ching-ying who returned a fifth time under a different director for the present day Magic Cop / Mr. Vampire 5.
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT
Lam Ching-ying plays a mortuary owner skilled in rituals for keeping the undead under control, a Taoist fat-si. His two young assistants tend however to get diverted by girls, such as Moon Lee, the daughter of one of Lam’s clients, and Pauline Wong, a ghost. Lee’s father is concerned about his ancestors, who’ve been interred in a burial ground possessed of dodgy feng shui (which Lam intends to rectify for him by unearthing them for reburial vertically upright!) – but a dug up body later turns into a vampire to escape from Lam’s mortuary. One of Lam’s assistants gets bitten and starts to turn into a vampire, while the other gets himself seduced by the voluptuous but unfortunately undead Wong. For good measure, Lee’s father gets bitten and turns into a further vampire.
THE CLAIM TO FAME
The above synopsis gives some idea of the deliriously demented mix of genres (among them romantic / sex comedy coupled with supernatural horror, special effects and flying kung fu action) but not of the oriental cadaver / vampire specifics. The opening scene sets up a great deal – a row of upright cadavers are held immobile until the paper spells pinned to their foreheads fall off, at which point they jump around in an attempt to pursue any hapless living human beings in the vicinity.
When I say jump, rigor mortis prevents them from doing little more than jumping in straight lines with arms stretched out in front of them – which might look hilarious but you’d better get out of the way fast because one bite and the victim shortly turns into a vampire. The only cure for that involves sticky rice – but people tend to panic buy the stuff when vampires are abroad and in Mr. Vampire, Lam’s cure for his bitten assistant goes hilariously awry when a merchant mixes long grain rice in with the sticky variety to eke out his rapidly dwindling supplies.
By turns romantic, gentle, charming, terrifying, side-splittingly funny, awe‑inspiring and spectacular, the original Mr. Vampire belongs to that select handful of truly magnificent, supernatural, special effects movies the Hong Kong Industry has thus far produced.
Mr. Vampire (widescreen, subtitled) is available from Made In Hong Kong video.
Trailer (Cantonese, no subs) here: