Friday, September 30, 2011

Geung si sin Sang (Mr. Vampire) (1985)
HONG KONG --- horror

Dir: Ricky Lau

Yet another Chinese horror comedy. I know, I know. This one is actually pretty good though. The reason being, it gets a lot more into the Chinese rituals and checks and balances of those rituals. So first let's get a little schooled into what just what's in store in this film, specifically the issue with "hopping vampires". They are technically called gyonshi or jiang shi. These vampires, however, are not quite what we expect from our western vampires. They are quite considerably different, and are more like the "George Romero" zombie than the Bram Stoker blood-suckers who follow a strict list of rules. Having said that, they do have some rules that apply of course. They usually stab their victims with very long fingernails, they're blind and can only find victims through the sense of smell, and are defeated with black magic and a healthy serving of good old kung fu. As I mentioned once before about vampire films, each film can have certain rules that exist only in the universe of the film you're watching.

So, with that said, this film follows a unibrowed mortician/ Taoist priest named Master Kau (played by Lam Ching Ying, who appears in the gyonshi sub genre multiple times throughout his career) and his bumbling assistants named Man Choi (played by veteran comedic relief Ricky Hui) and Chou (played by martial artists Chin Siu-ho, and yet another vet of this sub genre). Master Kau is hired to overlook and perform a reburial ceremony for the father of a wealthy businessman named Mr. Yam. He and Man Choi meet up with Yam and his niece Ting Ting for tea. Yam, on the advice of a so-called fortune teller, believes his father is to be buried vertically. When they dig him up, they realize he may have to be cremated so as to no longer leave his soul in unrest. His body, also begins to look somewhat revitalized and after twenty years, this is clearly a bad omen to Master Kau. So he orders his assistants to place incense around the graves of the cemetary, possibly to keep them at rest, that is until Chou hears the voice of woman of the dead; a ghost.

Back at the mortuary, Master Kau orders them to spiritually tie up the coffin as he performs a ritual to on some twine and they mark the coffin to keep the body dormant. Unfortunately, it doesn't work as the body begins to break out of the coffin. So Mr. Yam's own grandfather kills him later that night. Unfortunately, Yam's relative, a Barney Fife-esque local police officer blames Master Kau when he notices (thanks to Kau himself trying to alert him of a hopping vampire) his long finger nails and the puncture wounds in his Uncle Yam. Kau is arrested and as he sends Man Choi and Chou out to get ingredients for his ritual potions to stop not only the vampire on the loose, but Mr. Yam himself. Chou delivers the goods to the jail house to Master Kau as the have to battle Mr. Yam. No sooner than defeating him, Man Choi must defend Ting Ting from her grandfather and in the porcess is infected by the corpse until Kau and Chou come to the rescue. Kau wisely realizes the town is in danger and sends Chou to get more sticky rice; a prime ingredient to fighting off hopping vampires.

However, Chou, runs into an enchanting female ghost in the next village. Chou is bewitched by her beauty and literally under her spell, he narrowly escapes her grasp. Just as soon as he returns, Kau can see he has been "haunted" by a ghost. Under her spell, Master Kau bounds Chou to a chair to keep the ghost from snatching him away. In probably the best scene of the film, Master Kau battles against the love-hungry ghost and the blood-thirsty Man Choi at the same time. A testament to the genre itself and to the actors martial arts choreography. Soon they must eventually deal with a horde of hopping vampires and one that comes out of nowhere that gives the trio their greatest challenge.

"Mr. Vampire" isn't a horror film that sets out to scare its audience. While producer Sammo Hung spent most of the early 80's attempting to make a successful horror comedy to appease Hong Kong audiences, it wasn't until "Mr. Vampire" came on the scene where he had a hit. The film is definitely a classic in the Hong Kong horror (specifically the hopping vampire subgenre) comedy genre, spawning many sequels. As where "Spooky Encounters" laid the foundation, "Mr. Vampire" is the cornerstone which eventually took over the entire sub genre of films for many years to follow. My personal issues with the film is the niece character, Ting Ting, is reduced to a girl servant halfway through the film and all but disappears. It would have been interesting to see her fight for the affections of Chou against the female ghost. Anyways, as I mentioned in my review for "Spooky Encounters", Western filmmakers were not blind to these films, particularly with the cult classic John Carpenter film "Big Trouble in Little China" which features many tropes from this sub genre of film. Sam Raimi also borrowed alot for his "Evil Dead" films. The legacy of films like "Mr. Vampire" continues on into today, even with so many sequels and spinoffs of this very film alone.