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Mr Vampire
cast: Chin Siu-lo, Lam Ching-ying, and Moon Lee

director: Ricky Lau

94 minutes (15) 1985
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Hong Kong Legends DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Emma French
Originally released in 1985 to huge acclaim in Hong Kong, this franchise-spawning classic is a welcome addition to the Hong Kong Legends DVD collection. The film's most notable quality is the lavish set design: atmospheric, elaborate and carefully conceived. Misty night scenes in the woods, created with great difficulty in Hong Kong, are reminiscent of Kurosawa's Throne Of Blood, and opening and closing scenes in a traditional village film set in Taiwan are plausible and evocative. Unlike the kitsch dry ice-ridden small towns of 1980s' Hollywood horror classics like Fright Night and The Lost Boys, Mr Vampire creates an entire alien landscape for its vampires to inhabit. The setting also boasts kick-ass feng shui, a whole universe of tangible environmental influences a million miles from the bastardised western scented-candles-and-joss-sticks version of the discipline.
   Lam Ching-ying gives a stand out performance as a cool-headed Taoist priest responsible for managing the unruly walking corpses. His handsome assistant Chin Siu-lo provides the love interest with the sexy female ghost Moon Lee. Lee's rabid sexuality and fascination with human seduction places her closer to the traditional Western vampire than the bloodsuckers themselves, who are strange creatures, hopping in unison, speechless and blind. The whole film has the same pleasant shock of making the familiar strange, much like Michel Foucault's famous extracts of animal definitions from a Chinese dictionary at the beginning of his seminal work The Order Of Things. What translates less effectively, as is often the case, are the frequent slapstick comic moments. Though part of a tradition of such scenes in Hong Kong cinema, Ching-ying's discomfiture at the etiquette of an English teahouse or the botched wooing techniques of the local PC Plod simply don't cross cultures with the same success as the suspense and gore. More broadly, the ambitious generic mix of horror, comedy and chop-socky action at times falls flat.
   The notable DVD extras include an optional audio commentary by Bey Logan, a globally renowned expert on Hong Kong film. The audio commentary is an unusual feature and an extremely worthwhile one in this context as it situates the film for viewers who may be unfamiliar with the Hong Kong horror movie genre. The high calibre of this release rests as much upon its impressive range of extras as it does on the film itself. The lengthy biography of martial arts legend Lam Ching-ying, who died tragically young at age 45 of liver cancer, is fascinating, though in frustratingly small font. Amongst many interesting facts, the best is that Ching-ying mentored Michelle Yeoh at the beginning of her extraordinary transition from classical dancer to action star. In addition to two trailers, the UK promo trailer and the original Hong Kong theatrical trailer, two long and information-packed cast interviews with Chin Siu-lo and Moon Lee grant insight into the lengthy, gruelling and often dangerous filming process. At a time when the ambition of DVD extras is a matter of some debate, this disc provides a powerful argument for including what amounts to a crash course in Hong Kong cinema for beginners, and the extras encourage both repeat viewing of the feature film and exploration of similar titles.
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