Features Live Action Movies

(Yi Mei Dao Ren,

Director – Lam Ching-ying – 1989 – Hong Kong – Cert. 15 – 87m


A Taoist priest must defeat various supernatural forces including a Western-style vampire occupying a coffin in an old church – out on Blu-ray in the UK on Monday, May 22nd as part of Eureka! Video’s Hopping Mad: The Mr. Vampire Sequels

Turned into a star by playing the Taoist priest who fights off jiangshi (hopping corpses) in the Mr. Vampire films, Lam went on to play similar characters in films and TV for the rest of his career until his death at age 44 in 1997. He directed this particular film himself, and while it sits easily alongside the ‘official’ Mr. Vampire entries, it’s a little bit different.

Once again, Lam’s Taoist priest and two bumbling assistants Hoh (Chin Siu-ho) and Fong (Lui Fong) battle with ghosts and other supernatural forces. First up is a ghost made up of excrement and teeth which escapes from imprisonment in a jar exposed to too much moonlight, which trope inverts Western vampire lore about burning up in sunlight.

Given directorial reins, Lam shows surprisingly little interest in jiangshi, their presence consisting of one friendly child (Lam Jing-wang) inspired by Mr. Vampire II (Ricky Lau, 1986) who in the opening reel is accompanied by misjudged slapstick sound effects that to Western viewers appear to have been lifted from animated theatrical cartoon short franchises like Tom And Jerry (creators: Joseph Hanna, William Barbera, 1940-).

Just as you’re starting to fear that this fourth film on Eureka!’s box set might be a dud, it picks up with a battle with a banana tree spirit i.e. a beautiful female ghost in a red dress, a sequence involving a mirror which can repel the ghost, as well as lots of red rope and candles.

Series regular Billy Lau provides broad comedy hijinks as the General accompanied by his girlfriend (Sandra Ng) who he refers to in the subtitles as his ‘cousin’. He has a run in with a mother superior (Portuguese-Chinese actress, singer, bassist and TV cookery star Maria Cordero) and her nuns (Yip So, previously a minor ghost in Mr. Vampire III, Ricky Lau, 1987, plus Joanna Chan, Chan Suet-man, Regina Kent) as they try to hoist a cross onto a church roof. A locked building inside the church is infested with bats – and worse: it contains a tomb which houses a former priest who has become a Western-style vampire, complete with fangs and cape.

Thus, the stage is set for entertaining hijinks in which Lam’s Taoist and his two assistants do battle with the Western style vampire. At one point, the vampire hurls a fence post at the Taoist, recalling the stake through the heart used to despatch many a vampire in Western vampire movies. Another Western vampire trope, the lethal exposure of the vampire to sunlight, also plays a significant role in the vampire’s defeat here. The climactic battle additionally involves a rope bridge with numerous walkway planks missing and a swamp.

It’s not especially subtle, but the film is a commentary, albeit an overly simplistic one, of the colonialism of the East by the West through missionary Christianity, with the Taoist priest trying to avoid the proselytising mother superior and nuns and the physical church building the source of bat infestation and the Western vampire itself.

For good measure, the General’s ‘cousin’ gets bitten and she turns into a vampire, sporting a dress that makes her resemble a gothic female vampire in the UK’s classic Hammer Films.

Elsewhere, a search for a dead body in a brothel leads to an impressive fight scene, while a distasteful comic scene derived from the discomfort of one of the nuns at having her period is indicative of the sexist attitudes of the time.

The title indicates a conflict between two vampires, perhaps a jiangshi and a Western style vampire, but the film spectacularly fails to deliver on that score. What it does provide, however, is a conflict between East and West, in the form of the Taoist and his assistants coming up against, on the one hand, Western-inspired nuns based around a Western missionary church building and, on the other, an evil, Western-style vampire with whom to do battle.

Flaws and subtext aside, the comedy, mayhem and stunts of the whole thing hold the attention even if one misses the Taoist vs jiangshi conflicts and the accompanying folklore of the official Mr. Vampire franchise entries. Nevertheless, given Lam Ching-ying is the director and his considerable contribution as performer to the success of the franchise, Vampire Vs Vampire’s inclusion as the fourth film in the Hopping Mad box set makes complete sense, not least because those films are so obviously inspirational in the making of this one.

Vampire Vs Vampire is out on Blu-ray in the UK on Monday, May 22nd as part of Eureka! Video’s Hopping Mad: The Mr. Vampire Sequels. The release also features Mr. Vampire II, Mr. Vampire III and Mr. Vampire IV.

Trailer (no subtitles):

Hopping Mad: The Mr. Vampire Sequels trailer:

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