Mr. Vampire (1985)
Tai Seng Video Marketing
Cast: Ricky Hui, Chin Siu-Ho, Lam Ching-Ying
There are a number of films of the redefine or create completely new genres and courtesy of Tai Seng Marketing we are now able to behold one such example on DVD, straight from Hong Kong.
It is Ricky Lau’s highly acclaimed and hugely popular take on the horror genre, "Mr. Vampire", also known as "Geung si sin sang" under its original Cantonese title. The film is a Hong Kong horror comedy at its best, so follow me as I explore the contents of this release. I would like to point out a few words of heed however before we go into the details of this film. A number of scenes and situations from the film may seem zany and abstruse to American audiences at first, but upon closer examination the film is just as seriously un-serious as any American production, but works on different cultural grounds.
With that in mind we enter a dark monastery at night and see number of corpses standing there in a straight line. Each one of them looks like the other and each one of them is banned into place by a written spell that is attached to the creature’s forehead. By accident the goofy monastery apprentices, Man Chor (Ricky Hui) and Chou (Chin Siu-Ho) remove these spells and are immediately attacked by the creatures. Only in the last minute Master Kou (Lam Ching-Ying), a Taoist priest, manages to salvage the situation and freeze the undead back in place.
The next day Kou is called to a grave relocation and realizes that the body inside the coffin has become a vampire. He tries to ban the vampire but despite his efforts, the undead breaks free and grows in power. He leaves an array of bitten people in his wake who slowly turn into vampires themselves. Sadly just at the same time as Man Chor is slowly turning into an undead, Chou is lured and haunted by a beautiful She-Ghost. With all his skills and arcane knowledge, Master Kou has all his hands full to rid the world of the Evil that surrounds him and his village.
One of the central themes of the film are the hopping ghosts, vampire-like monsters that find their origins in many Oriental cultures. Undead but stiffened by rigor mortis these creatures are unable to walk and hence make small hops. Since these creatures are somewhat limited in their movements, the filmmakers have also brought in a true flirtatious She-Ghost and a powerful vampire to add pace and diversity to the film. An incredible and furious mix is the result that is both exhilarating and funny. High-flying kung fu goes hand in hand with macabre jokes, visceral shocks and hilarious sitcom. It is hardly surprising that the film was nominated for various Hong Kong film awards back in 1985 when it was first released and has since become a cult classic and highly sought after gem among horror comedy lovers across the world.
To an extent the horror scenario is only the backdrop to a hilarious comedy that makes fun of the two apprentice buffoons who are unable to control themselves and cause more damage to their environment than is good for them. Think of a kung-fu supercharged Abbott and Costello film and you get the rough idea of what "Mr. Vampire" is like. In their continuous quest to save the world from evil, these goofballs remove important spells to ban monsters, make fun of each other’s incapability and eventually get lured by Evil itself. Their struggle to withstand this lure and to shed the evil that is inside them is enough to make you laugh tears, just as the ways to achieve it are unconventional and hilarious too, although based in Oriental mythology. In "Mr. Vampire" the undead detect people by their breathing, which means holding your breath makes you invisible. That by itself is material for great comedic moments. But the hopping ghosts and the dry humor added to that and the full-bodied acting puts the icing on this comedy. Unfortunately some of the witty dialogues clearly lose their impact upon translation because they are based on certain puns in the Chinese language that are practically impossible to translate.
Current DVD releases of Hong Kong movies are a far cry from the washed out VHS releases or the mediocre Laserdiscs we have seen in the past, and "Mr. Vampire" is another testimony to this. The image quality of this disc is quite impressive, featuring a transfer of the movie in a 1.66:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio. The image is detailed and exhibits great shadow delineation even in the most underlit scenes – which are traditionally very frequent in Hong Kong horror and fantasy films. But the transfer also brings out the best of the film’s colors. Beautifully photographed "Mr. Vampire" boasts very strong colors with subtle hues and shades within the coloring. The DVD nicely restores all these subtleties and has a very rich overall color reproduction without ever appearing over-saturated. The compression does exhibit the occasional hints of slight <$pixelation,pixelation>, but no <$chroma,chroma noise> or other distracting artifacts are evident. Overall it is a great-looking presentation.
"Mr. Vampire" contains language track in Cantonese and Mandarin in <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital>, as well as subtitles in a variety of languages. The soundtrack is well produced with some nice effects, although the surrounds are not overly active and used mostly for ambience. It also contains a very good music score that nicely complements the pictures on the screen. The Cantonese language track sounds rather balanced and natural with good unexaggerated bass extension. On a side note it may be noteworthy however that the English subtitles are sometimes unintentionally funny with their broken English translation, which sometimes even heightens the experience of the movie itself.
I had a great time watching "Mr. Vampire". It is a great example how Hong Kong filmmakers combine many elements from different genres to create truly amusing films. The horror elements combined with martial arts and topped of with a good portion of humor is what sets these films apart from anything you will ever see in an American production. If you like films like "Army Of Darkness" are "The Fearless Vampire Killers", this release is a must-see. While its production values may be a little lower than many domestic productions, this film offers a variety of twists and ideas that make it a fun-filled, tongue-in-cheek experience. Check it out. This is a great DVD!