Film Review: Mr. Vampire (1980)


Jackie Chan, as a performer, is frequently compared with Buster Keaton and, as I’ve mentioned in my own review of Police Story at Letterboxd, Charlie Chaplin.

Well, Mr. Vampire, a martial arts horror-comedy film produced by Jackie Chan’s friend and fellow member of the Five Little Fortunes, is what I’d probably describe as the Hong Kong equivalent of the Abbott and Costello Meet… movies.

The film follows a Taoist priest, Master Kau (Lam Ching-ying), and his two students Man-Choi (Ricky Hui) and Chau-Sang (Chin Siu-ho). When Kau is called in to assist with the reburial of the father a rich businessman, Master Yam, they discover that due to the fortune teller who picked the father’s gravesite dicking over Master Yam’s father (who had dicked over the Fortune Teller before that) combined with Yam’s father dying angry, Yam’s father has become a vampire. When attempts to contain the vampire fail and it breaks loose, Kau, Man-Choi, and Chau-Sang must hunt down the monster and limit the damage it causes.

Chau-Sang and Man-Choi are our Bud Abbott and Lou Costello analogs, respectively, with the former the self confident bossy character, the latter the goofball, and both being funny-men kept in line (in some form or another) by Kau. It is to the film’s credit it that it does a good job of juggling the antics of the main characters and some legitimately creepy moments involving the main vampire.

Where the film drags is when it introduces a subplot with a female ghost (played by Wong Siu-fung) who becomes infatuated with Chao-Sang, and who threatens to kill him by draining his chi. That’s enough of a story to carry its own film (and has, in the case of Chinese Ghost Story), and Siu-Fung and Siu-Ho have really strong chemistry, enough to carry a separate film. Here, though, it feels like padding, as the plot comes up at a bad time in the film, where a vampire is on the loose, and Man-Choi is fending off the onset vampirism with the assistance of Kau.

Still, when the jokes work, they really work, with really snappy patter and some well choreographed slapstick. The direction also keeps the Jiangshi from becoming laughable, instead feeling like a real, sincere threat. Sadly, the US DVD releases of this film are completely out of print, which is a shame, as I would not mind if this film had received the Dragon Dynasty treatment. However, the Dragon Dynasty label is now defunct, so there is no longer any sort of prestige label for old martial arts films like Scream Factory is for Shout Factory’s horror releases, so unless the Criterion Collection were to include this film with their martial arts film releases (like A Touch of Zen and Dragon Inn), I don’t see this getting a quality release soon. The film has received a Blu-Ray release in Japan, but it does not have an English subtitle option, which is a crime.

Mr. Vampire is available used with a considerable markup on Amazon.com.

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