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Mr. Vampire (Jiangshi Xiansheng) Review

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Master Gau, a priest/exorcist/undertaker, copes with a vampire who is preying on his living family, while dealing with the troubles of his foolish apprentices. Chou is in love with a ghost and Man Choi has been bitten by the vampire.

★★★★

This lively Chinese horror movie pits knockabout comedians with martial arts skills against an oriental version of the Hammer-style vampire in a flavourful mix of Eastern and Western, comic and horrific, sophisticated action and pleasant naivete.

The chief menace is a Mandarin-robed, bloodsucking corpse with long blue nails, progressively mangled features and a distinctive arms-out hopping gait, while the ghost girl of the subplot is a winsome miss who sometimes has a mangled ruin with a popped eyeball for a face and can detach her head as a spike-haired cannonball.

It deploys an impressive range of Daoist techniques for coping with the supernatural: a mystically-charged cat’s cradle which seems electrified to the undead; a scattering of sticky rice (a duplicitous merchant mixes in ordinary rice and compromises the spell); prayer parchments or blood-smears stuck to the foreheads of vampires to immobilise them; a crucifix-sword made out of coins; and old-fashioned kung fu moves used by the heroic, one-eyebrowed priest to batter vampires through very breakable furniture.

While it showcases serious occult lore and gruesome horror, it’s essentially a comedy lark, with a Clouseau-like jealous police inspector getting in the way because the heroine (Moon Lee) prefers goofy, temporarily-fanged Hui and monsters who are as ludicrous as they are fearsome.

A huge hit in the Far East, this spun off a number of sequels, remakes, imitations and rip-offs, typecasting the supple Lam Ching-Ying (also the film’s fight choreographer) in Van Helsing-type roles and inspiring the more export-friendly, romantic Chinese Ghost Story franchise.

While it showcases serious occult lore and gruesome horror, it’s essentially a comedy lark.

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