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Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters
|     review    |     notes     |     availability     |
AKA: The Era of Vampires
Year: 2002
Director: Wellson Chin Sing-Wai
Producer: Tsui Hark
Action: Tam Jan-Dung
Cast: Ken Chang (Cheung Chi-Hiu), Lam Suet, Michael Chow Man-Kin, Chan Kwok-Kwan, Ji Chun-Hua, Anya, Yu Rong-Guang, Chen Kuan-Tai, Lee Wai-Shing, Lee Lik-Chi, Lee Kin-Yan
The Skinny: Messy horror kung fu comedy that recalls similar productions from over ten years ago. While amusing and even entertaining from a retro standpoint, Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters doesn't amount to more than average HK Cinema fare. Featuring the return of Michael Chow!
Review
by Kozo:

     Tsui Hark goes back to the well for this horror comedy which recalls the hopping vampire days of yore. Like many of its predecessors (i.e., the Mr. Vampire series), Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters is a largely aimless mishmash of kung-fu action, cool Taoist shtick and sometimes trying comedy - a formula that the film follows perhaps too successfully. As many of the older vampire flicks were barely average productions, turning out a comparable product is hardly a cause for massive celebration.
     Set during 17th century China, the film follows a ragtag group of vampire hunters named Wind (Ken Chang), Rain (Lam Suet), Thunder (Michael Chow) and Lighting (Chan Kwok-Kwan). The four were taught their vampire-fighting skills by master Mao Shan (Ji Chun-Hua), a skilled kung-fu artist and Taoist exorcist. The group's goal is to stop the Vampire King, a particularly nasty undead monster who sucks human spirits and can create even more of his type. Unfortunately, the initial encounter goes awry, and the group loses the Vampire King, and is separated from their master to boot.
     Three months later, the boys track the Vampire King to the House of Jiang, a supposedly haunted home run by Master Jiang (Yu Rong-Guang). Besides presiding over a massive empty home, Jiang is a skilled taxidermist and wax artisan, and preserves the dead into unflattering wax statues in an attempt keep them around. Jiang's son is due to be wed to the comely Sasa (Anya), and the four hunters pretend to be servants-for-hire to continue their investigation. Wind also finds the time to become enamored of Sasa, which means tiresome comedy relief which was unfunny even back in the eighties.
     However, Sasa's brother Dragon (Lee Wai-Shing) is really after Jiang's gold, and is using his sister to get in with the old coot. He hires a "zombie wrangler" played by Chen Kuan-Tai to animate Jiang's wax corpses, meaning lots of hopping guys will soon be terrorizing the town. Robbery schemes, zero character development, cheesy gore, uninteresting romantic developments, entertaining wire-fu and chintzy special effects follow.
     The massive time gap between this and earlier vampire efforts pays off in some slight ways. The Vampire King is a more powerful-seeming entity than previous movie vampires, and updated camera tricks allow he and his hopping zombie bretheren much more dynamic movement. Also, the effects are slightly beefed up, and the film has been given a convincingly dirty production design. Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters does not share the messy-but-gorgeous cinematography of previous genre entries, and instead creates a convincingly atmospheric location for all the coming vampire hijinks. The kung-fu, while not overly inspired, manages to be energetic and attention-getting. Those who bemoan the loss of this sort of cheapie period kung-fu spectacular should be pleased by what they see.
     However, that's where the modern advances end. Everything else (acting, story and direction) seems drawn from a cinematic wasteland where product was king and actual filmmaking an unheard of thing. Director Wellson Chin is no stranger to this, as he directed the fast-food Inspectors Wear Skirts series as well as numerous horror comedies that were actually better than this retro exercise. Tsui Hark's production house Film Workshop has churned out commercial product in the past, but it usually possessed some dizzying creativity and deceptively off-kilter sensibilities. Those who've been weaned on HK's entertaining junk food cinema will likely find much to delight them in Vampire Hunters. There's nothing about this film that makes it anything more than average - and we're talking eighties standards here. If one were to look at the film from a modern perspective, it would be seen as more-or-less a failed effort, managing no discernible substance beneath its typical genre conventions. Fans of Tsui Hark will likely be distressed by this latest in a series of uninspired efforts, none of them approaching the energy or breathless imagination of his earlier works.
     But still, whatever nostalgia Vampire Hunters conjures up may be enough for some people. Who cares if there's no character, story, acting or emotional purpose to this filck? Vampire Hunters breezes by in a ninety minute flurry of unimportant, yet somewhat amusing HK Cinema signifiers. Seeing hopping vampires, flying kung-fu, and wacky weapons of Taoist monks is probably enough to put the smile on the faces of the same people who saw Mr. Vampire 1-4, Vampire vs. Vampire, New Mr. Vampire, Vampire Family and probably even The Musical Vampire. Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters won't win any new fans to the genre, but it probably doesn't need to. Those who expect to like this type of cheap cinema will probably dig this flick. Those who don't: please watch something else. (Kozo 2003)

Notes: • As of June 2003, this film had yet to be released in Hong Kong.
• As of October 2007, this film had yet to be released in Hong Kong in either theaters or on home video. Let's face it: it may never happen.
Availability: DVD (USA)
Region 1 NTSC
Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and English Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and French subtitles
 
image courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video
   
 
 
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