Mr. Vampire!!

Mr. Vampire – 1985, Ricky Lau – Hong Kong


We Westerners love our horror comedies. We’re into all the classic, spook-a-minute chuckle-fests, be they Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, An American Werewolf in London, Or Sexsquatch: Legend of Blood Stool Creek, those films are our jam, and thanks to a lifelong cultural indoctrination, we proud people have all come to know that violence is funny, and that the gruesome and the hilarious go together like chocolate and peanut butter.


What would you say, however, if I were to tell you that Asia had done us one better, and that they had taken this winning formula and added a third element? That’s right! Prepare yourself, for Hong Kong’s Mr. Vampire, because this film is an open portal to a whole new world, to the realm of the MARTIAL ARTS/HORROR/COMEDY, and friend, those three things go together like chocolate, peanut butter, and wicked sweet karate chops.


The best films of this type came out of the Hong Kong genre film boom of the 1980’s, and while Mr. Vampire isn’t the first movie to meld these three wonderful ingredients together, it’s absolutely my favorite. Americans don’t seem to know about Mr. Vampire yet, but it’s honestly not out of line to call this one of the greatest horror comedies ever made. We need to get familiar with it.

THE PLOT- When a prominent  citizen seeks to dig up and then rebury his father for good luck (Apparently that’s allowed in Hong Kong? Even encouraged?!) he seeks out the help of a cunning priest and his two bumbling assistants to make sure this grave desecration is all done by the book, but lo and behold, something is amiss, and when the grave is exhumed, it’s occupant is found to be a damn vampire. This sets off a freaky Asian vampire chain reaction, and the hijinks which follow are of a most wacky variety indeed.


First thing I need to clarify- These are not the typical “white guy in a cape” style European variety vampires that most Americans are familiar with. The blood suckers in this movie are the famed Chinese “hopping vampires,” a breed of ghoul which literally hops around in order to move, due to a debilitating stiffness of the body, brought on by rigor mortis. Additionally, these creatures are thought to be blind, and thus must seek out their victims by listening for the sound of a beating heart- meaning that holding your breath and standing still can make you “invisible” to them, at least, until you have to breathe again. Of course, there are one or two vampires in this film who seem to be exceptions to those rules, but I don’t know how the whole Chinese vampire thing works, dude. All I know is that most of these guys hop around, and I love it.


Conga line- OF THE DAMMED! (Those are all vampires following that dude.)

Mr. Vampire is really, really great. As mentioned above, it’s a martial arts/horror/comedy, but the movie clearly aims for laughs above all else, and in fact, all of the horror and kung fu stuff is done in the service of humor, so even at it’s scariest, or in the heat of it’s most strenuously choreographed fight scene, Mr. Vampire never wants you to be too far away from a smile. The narrative seems to be closely modeled after what you might see in an old-fashioned stage play, it’s all simple, character driven, misunderstanding based comedic routines which largely take place in small, single room spaces, and which are broken down into individual, self-contained chunks. Mr. Vampire could work equally well in a live theater format as it does on the big screen, and this old fashioned style of narrative has a certain specialness built into it which is a woefully absent from movies today. Another factor which helps give Mr. Vampire a classic feel is it’s relatively clean subject matter. It’s not exactly G rated, there are a few suggestive jabs here and there which will raise eyebrows amongst those with more puritanical sensibilities, but Mr. Vampire is more cheeky than it is smutty. It’s a film with an inherent, lighthearted innocence, and even for a deranged and diseased mind like mine, that’s nice once in a while.

The Kung Fu sequences in this picture are all great, too, and they don’t overstay their welcome, we have just enough of them that when one comes around, it’s exciting, and never boring. Part of Mr. Vampire’s recipe for kung-fu success is that even these fight scenes are meant to be humorous, they don’t feel violent so much as wacky, so it’s really easy to have fun watching them even if you don’t have any interest in Kung Fu whatsoever.

There are very few flaws worth mentioning in Mr. Vampire, it has a few hokey special effects, but they’re hokey due to vintage, not laziness or ineptitude, so they end up feeling more charming than embarrassing. There is also a subplot in here about one of the bumbling assistants being seduced by a female ghost which probably would have been written out if this were shot in the west, because it doesn’t really drive the plot forward in any direct way. I don’t count this subplot as a mark against Mr. Vampire, however, because it further contributes to the old fashioned feel of the film, and also results in some really fun sequences I wouldn’t want to lose, regardless of the structural “imperfections.” Let’s not be script Nazis, Mr. Vampire can have its ghost subplot if it wants to.

Maybe the biggest flaw that people tend to point out about Mr. Vampire is that it ISN’T Spooky Encounters, another excellent martial arts horror comedy which preceded this film by five years. Aledgley, this movie is a bit of a retread, which I guess is true… Mr. Vampire probably wouldn’t exist if Spooky Encounters hadn’t been made first, but in my mind, this is the superior movie. I’d call Mr. Vampire ‘The Formula Perfected’ before I called it a rehashing, and to date I’ve never seen a better Martial Arts/Horror/Comedy, and brother, I have certainly tried.

mr vampire

Thematically, there is some stuff in here about Modernization versus tradition; the film takes place in Hong Kong during an era where the British have brought in European customs with modern forms of government and policing, yet by and large, the people of China prefer to operate as they have for generations, and this sets up an interesting conflict for our main characters. As traditional Taoists priests, they find themselves compelled to work toward the good of the people by using traditional methods, exclusively based upon spiritualism, while the newly modernized police force regards their practices, and even the threat of vampirism itself as total mumbo jumbo. As a result, these police function more as an impediment to our characters than anything else, and this is a major source of conflict early on in Mr. Vampire. Later in the film, however, after things have passed the point of no return, vampire style, the police finally accept their inability to deal with the now all-too-obvious ghoul epidemic, and the film switches gears ever so slightly. Suddenly, and for the first time, the vampire threat starts to look a little bit more like a biological plague, as if only now, with things at their worst, does the movie start to consider the notion that perhaps our Priests don’t know what they’re doing, and perhaps spiritualism really has become obsolete in serving the needs of a modernized society? At this point, when even the police have put their faith in religion to save the day, we begin to see our stalwart Taoist in a position of weakness and doubt, and he seems to feel unsure about his ability to combat this threat after all. This short sequence is Mr. Vampire at it’s most introspective, but it’s quite subtle. Still, if you had to point out any specific centerpiece for the film’s chief metaphor, it would be the scene I’m talking about here.

The movie does a good job with these ideas, and we end up with an interesting back and forth that investigates the grey area you get when a culture with deep roots in tradition tries to jump ahead a few centuries overnight, with some areas taking longer to catch up than others. It’s well done, but these sombre and contemplative moments are fairly brief. I know that it may not seem like it after I’ve highlighted them in this way, but these themes are actually explored so casually that they could almost be in here by accident. Mr Vampire, is about those ideas, yes, but it really is about comedy first and foremost. Even at it’s darkest, Mr. Vampire is far from a heavy experience, it stays lighthearted, fun, and is periodically, legitimately hilarious.

This truly is a fantastic example of the mighty martial arts/horror/comedy sub-genre, and damn, it’s super deserving of some long overdue praise from we Western audiences. It would also make an excellent double feature alongside Roman Polanksi’s The Fearless Vampire Killers, but I would suggest you do anything you need to do to see Mr. Vampire asapbecause it’s a freakin’ masterpiece.


The Last Dragon!!!

The Last Dragon – 1985, Michael Schultz


The Last Dragon is a slice of 1980’s zeitgeist so pure, potent, and unspoiled by new millennium angst that your immune system may not actually be prepared for it. It’s too bright eyed, too uninhibited, and most of you will likely find your health adversely effected as a result of viewing this motion picture. Full disclosure; I was born in the 80’s, and yet even I, an 80’s native, was not exempt from these maladies; at 45 minutes into the picture I began to develop nausea, headaches, vomiting, and an innovative, fresh, new breakdancing routine which is certain to win me fly honeys and mad street cred when I deploy it in the Bay Area next spring. This is your final warning, turn back, or suffer the consequences the 1980’s hath wrought.

THE PLOT~ Leroy Green (Also known as “Bruce Leroy”- awesome) is a naïve, virtuous inner-city youth with a weasely, peach fuzz mustache and a mastery of Kung Fu that is ALMOST unrivaled throughout Harlem. Completely devoted to the martial arts as a way of life, Leroy is on a quest to become a Master and reach the highest level of Kung Fu Bad Assary; obtaining a mystical power called “The glow.” They never really explain “the glow,” but it’s kind of like The Force, I think. And it’s also really awesome, and Leroy needs it.

However, he is not without competition for Martial Arts supremacy, as a formidable rival soon appears in the form of Sho’Nuff, the Shogun of Harlem.

sho nuff

Sho’Nuff is a lanky, aggressive psychopath who leads your typical 1980’s Kung Fu street gang. They all wear costumes and have names like “Crunch” and “Cyclone,” so, you know, pretty standard stuff. Sho’Nuff is his own biggest fan, and he has a debilitating “Mirror mirror on the wall” type of narcissism that won’t allow him to rest until everybody knows he’s number one.  Nuff makes it his mission to bully Leroy into a showdown that would determine just who is the top Kung Fu Fist in town, but Leroy won’t bite. He knows that fighting for the sake of ego isn’t gonna get anybody The Glow, so he has no interest in this proposed showdown. His refusal only serves to piss Sho off, and soon things escalate until Leroy has no choice in the matter. But first…!


…We have Eddie Arkadian, a manipulative gangster with aspirations of puppet-mastering Angela, a Cindi Lauper-esque popstar, into the limelight, so that he can vicariously soak up her glory, and enjoy the spoils of radio wave domination. His home made pop starlet isn’t really getting it done, however, so like any gangster worth his salt, Eddie decides to break some rules to make this shit happen. His plan? To Force local TV personality and youth culture Goddess Laura Charles (Played by Vanity!) to showcase his Client on her music variety show. However, when Laura refuses, Arkadian’s ire is provoked, gangster style, and he decides to play rough.

Through equal parts coincidence and shady machinations, all of our characters become increasingly entangled with one another until the movie hits critical mass in the third act, at which point fools get a full fledged 1980’s Kung Fu beat down dropped on their heads. Every American home should be stocked with a copy of this film at all times.

The Last Dragon is a Kung Fu movie, but it’s total entry level Kung Fu, a step down even from The Karate Kid. It definitely has it’s fight scenes, but the martial arts are probably the least important element in the equation if we really dig in and look at what makes this thing tick. Much more prominent here is the music; the soundtrack to The Last Dragon is a monster, there was clearly a lot of importance placed on keeping this thing grooving, start to finish, and they pulled it off. The jams are all traditional, stupid 80’s pop, and for many of us, that hits the “guilty Pleasure” region of our brains with Robin Hood like precision. Through the music of the era, the mindless optimism of the 80’s is at it’s most infectious, so get ready to smile against your will, you grumpy bastards. It’s also definitely a comedy, and The Last Dragon does not take itself very seriously.

It is, however, sometimes difficult to pinpoint where this movie crosses over from comedy into legitimate insanity. Some aspects of the film do feel at least marginally insane for real… My favorite scene falls into that grey area, it goes like this;

Following up on a tip from his previous Sensai, Leroy travels to a Fortune Cookie factory somewhere in the city to seek the tutelage of another Kung Fu Master, who he believes resides nearby. We arrive at the factory before Leroy does, and what we see is a screaming abomination steeped in ignorance and shame. Three Asian factory employees have engaged in the 1980’s tradition of dancing like mental patients on a side walk in full view of mankind and God alike, and in this instance; the song they are dancing to is one of the most unlistenably humiliating 80’s pop jams on the entire soundtrack, a song called Suki Yaki Hot Saki Sue, which, I learned from the credits, is performed by someone called Raw Dog…. Yikes, you guys.


These three ultra nerds are just pedal-to-the-medal grooving with such belligerent intensity, I would call this “dancing with extreme prejudice.” The most glorious thing about it is that they appear to be totally convinced that what they are doing is so, so very bad ass, when in truth, nothing could possibly be lamer. The experience is intense, like french kissing a hydrogen bomb an instant before detonation, and it only get’s worse once our guy arrives. Leroy, himself about the biggest square on the American East Coast, pleads for an audience with the Master, and in response he is heckled and belittled ruthlessly by the three people least qualified to make fun of anybody, ever. Their insults surpass “suck” in how poorly conceived and executed they are, and at one point, one of these guys appears to mock Leroy for being Asian. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this yet, but Leroy is black, so this exchange is more than a little confusing, and if anyone other than Leroy had been subjected to such bush-league ridicule, they would have gone off on these bozos with brutal, beast like ferocity. They would be right to do so. If I could give you one illustration to help explain what it feels like to watch this scene, it would be this; this conflict is like the Tour DeFrance, only in this case, every participant has had the part of their brain that tells them how to ride a bike completely removed, and in it’s place, they were given an extra helping of whatever part of your brain tells you “You’re doing a great job, keep it up!”. It’s a massive tangle of humiliating failure that can’t stop fist pumping with hysterical pride over how good of a job it’s doing. I think this scene changed my life.

With that having been said, even these geeks are somehow likable, and actually, if we look at the rather large cast of characters in The Last Dragon, there’s not a turd in the bunch. All of our actors do a great job playing their parts, as well, especially  Faith Prince, who plays Angela, the would-be-pop star. While Angela probably isn’t going to be anyone’s favorite character in the movie, Prince really bats for the fences and plays this vulnerable, multi-dimensional role fantastically. You don’t usually see this much talent in a flick of this caliber, and in fact, if you keep your eyes peeled you’ll spot celebrated actors William H. Macy and Chazz Palminteri hiding in there as well. They must not have been famous yet.

Aside from the excellent cast, entertaining premise, and catchy, shame-drenched, 80’s soundtrack, the rest of the production also fares pretty well when scrutinized. I find myself getting carried away when I talk about how great The Last Dragon really is, but I don’t feel compelled to hold back, if I’m being honest. It’s just such a fun movie. There are a lot of great sequences throughout the film, like when Leroy’s little brother is kidnapped up by Arkadian’s thugs, and “dances” out of the ropes they tie him up with, or when Laura shows Leroy a music video about The Glow featuring Bruce Lee, even though she literally only just learned that The Glow even existed seconds earlier on the car ride to her studio. The final confrontation between Sho’Nuff and Leroy is also freaking rad, and over all, The Last Dragon is just a really good time.


This is the sort that of movie that I, and so many of my peers, grew up with. If The Goonies was your jam when you were coming up, and if you were all about Short Circuit as a kid, then this movie could absolutely have held a spot in your regular VHS rotation. I’m legitimately saddened that I was already an adult the first time I saw it, and I vow to break this cycle of negligent parenting should I ever have children and/or decide to clone myself. Who knows how differently I could have turned out if I had seen this film before I got old and ruined my life! I think you should all watch this, if you can manage to suspend your cynicism for about ninety minutes, you could absolutely do worse.



Versus– 2000, Ryuhei Kitamura


At some point, someone in Japan said “Hey- I really liked The Matrix! Let’s do that! Only, we want zombies. And blood. And swords. And we only have 11 dollars. And we aren’t really very talented. Also, the zombies can do karate sometimes. Now go!”

And with that, Japan crapped out Versus. This formula apparently works for a lot of people, and the film does have a large following. I was misled into first viewing Versus after a blitz of positive buzz from some of its fans, who assured me that if I like sword films, Evil Dead, Dead Alive, or zombies in general, I would LOVE Versus! Think again, friend. This movie is live action anime, first and foremost. Just because something works as a cartoon does not mean it should be brought into reality. Did none of you see Cool World?! If not, don’t.

The biggest issue with Versus is that it lives in eternal pursuit of the cultural construct we call “The bad ass.” For many, being “a bad ass” is the single highest honor a fictional character can achieve. Idiots especially worship the Cult of Bad Ass, because to them, the bad ass is in direct contradiction of subtlety, which they despise and do not understand. To them, a Bad Ass can do anything cool that it wants to, and it completely ignores boring things like “motivation,” “depth,” or  “not having a learning disability.” Therefore, when a moron generates media (Paul W.S. Anderson), in this day and age it is overwhelming how often they will strive to create a “bad ass” for their piece. Since they don’t understand what actually makes someone a bad ass, this usually means taking a douche bag, tossing him in some wrap-around sunglasses, maybe a tank top, a trench coat, or both, and asking him to speak in a low, raspy voice and act like he can’t be bothered by explosions or impending death.

The characters in this movie want to be bad asses so, so hard. Everyone wears black exclusively. It’s like the costume designer showed up with dark blue once and the director punched them in the throat for insulting his mandatory and entirely monochromatic wardrobe demands. These black clad dopes spend a lot of time slowly and laboriously sleazing through shots, just basking so hard in how much of a bad ass they want to be, techno music doing it’s part to confirm that yes, in case you missed the wrap-arounds and black clothes, these guys are total bad asses, seriously, you guys.

Here’s an example of the sort of blatant, towering douchebag colossus you will see in Versus:

photoBehold! This is possibly the most flamboyant of Versus‘ childish, “bad ass” characters. As you’ll notice, he has a black belt in over-compensation, and the term “understated” ain’t in his dictionary. Every single aspect of his personage has to just tug on your sleeves and plead with you to believe that he is a bad ass. Let’s break it down;

  1. ponytail
  2. sunglasses
  3. no sleeves
  4. fingerless gloves
  5. leather pants
  6. a damn motorcycle

All of which are black. If douchebag/faux-badass spotting was birdwatching, this would be like spotting a bald eagle soaring above the Rocky Mountains with an American flag clenched in it’s talons.

Here’s another fun “bad ass” character- this magical flying Kung Fu zombie (I hate you so much, Versus…)


First off; if your hairstyle could be described as “The Ronald McDonald,” you are not a bad ass. EVER. PERIOD.

Secondly, look at this asshole’s face. Where does he get the gall? Look how cool he thinks he is. Let’s talk about this. That asshole went in to a salon and paid to get his hair dyed. This means he had to sit quietly in one of the little caps while it bleached, and then wait in the lobby wearing a little towel on his head, and then lean back in one of those sinks, ALL of that shit this guy did- OR he had to go to a store, buy a dye pack, and do it at home, probably with a friend to help him. Not very bad ass. It’s important for you to visualize anyone who will pass themselves off as unflappably cool primping their balls off on the regular like a high school sophomore to remind yourself that this guy did a lot of really, really, really not cool stuff to look this way, so you shouldn’t just take his word for it. Do you think he wore those sunglasses and kept his eyebrows cocked throughout his entire barber shop experience? Do you think he went to one of those trendy salons? And then he gelled it. Every morning. Think about that. Try to imagine anyone looking like a bad ass while they painstakingly primp their hair so that it looks just spiky enough. A bad ass doesn’t care if his hair is combed!!! Fuck you, Versus! Fuck you, these people are not cool! All your characters are total dorks!!!

THE PLOT- In a veritable “clash of the bad asses,” two bad ass escaped prisoners rendezvous with some yakuza bad assess for some reason. I’m not sure. However, this bad ass cocktail turns out to be a little too bad ass, and the deal goes south, leading to a massive yakuza bad ass karate throw down, which, according to movies, is  customary in Japan. Things are further complicated when we discover that, holy smokes, this is some kind of fancy zombie forest! You die here, and you get back up. Get ready for some techno.

So, the gangsters brought a woman with them, and apparently, the plan was to sacrifice her in some ritual. The yakuza boss, who arrives a little later in the film, is some sort of black magic practitioner bad ass who hopes to open some magic portal, which is hidden somewhere in the forest. This is the cliched, boring plot Versus has to offer, but it’s buried underneath a big, stupid heap of stylized violence, so you might have a hard time following it. Or giving a shit. Guys, I know that on some level this sounds awesome, but trust me, it sucks so hard.


Do you think this guy was thinking “yeah, I’m such a bad ass!” while he gelled his fucking hair and shaved his little goatee just right in his bathroom mirror that morning? It had to be perfect. He got up early to do it.

Almost no one in this movie has a name- details like that are deemed trivial by Versus. The identities of these characters are throwaway, all that matters is their actions and the role they play in this story. That’s really reflective of two tenets of Versus‘ theology; one; the rejection of anything too boring to hold the interest of today’s youth culture (Translation: “Uuhhhhh, who cares what his name is? Fred- No! Master Chief! Look, he’s a bad ass, okay?!”), and two; the notion that throughout history there are cyclical patterns caused by the reincarnation of key individuals, an idea central to Versus’ plot. The film takes place mostly in present day, but also features brief scenes set in Feudal era Japan, as well as the distant future; and in all three eras our character’s roles remain identical. These people are reincarnated again and again and forced to carry out the same battles throughout history, so their individual histories at any given point in the timeline are unimportant next to their roles in the grand scheme. I can recognize that this is a cool idea, but that’s really the only thing going on here that I respect. Beyond that, Versus is a vapid thing, and it’s saddled with stylistic choices that are childish and annoying. And stupid. They are. They really are.

Here, look, some stupid; these yakuza hop into a nifty little trio pose before blasting a zombie.

12345678910Isn’t that cute? While the man on the bottom, or “the power bottom,” as I believe they call him, holds in place, the two men on the outside edge of the screen run to the opposite sides of him, do little gun twirls and freeze into some choreographed yakuza power pose so they look extra bad ass while shooting. What the fuck?!? Is this a shoot out or a chorus line?!?? Attention; people who like Versus; THAT is in your movie. Who is going to argue with me over this?! Are you kidding me? I can’t believe the shittiness of this movie is disputed!!!

And don’t you dare pull that “you’re thinking about this too much” shit with me. When an artist does their job well, you will appreciate their work more and more once you start to analyze it. If spacing out and drooling happily to the noises and moving shapes is required to appreciate your art, then you suck and you’ve done a horrible job, and also you are an idiot and I hate you.


One legitimate boast for Versus; it’s gory. Lots of blood, lots of violence, and that’s going to win over a lot of people. However, it’s no Dead Alive. There’s also nothing to anchor the gore that isn’t stupid and totally void of substance, so unlike Dead Alive’s goofy RomComZomDram hero’s quest, Versus comes out feeling like a goofy snooze fest full of losers and dorks. On this one I must differ with popular consensus, Versus sucks, and it can fuck itself.

Fuck you, Versus.