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TSUI HARK’S VAMPIRE HUNTERS (aka ERA OF THE VAMPIRE, 2002)
Directed by Wellson Chin
Written by Tsui Hark
Starring Ken Chang, Michael Chow, Lam Suet, Chan Kwok Kwan, Anya, Yu Rong Guang, Horace Lee Wai Shing, & Ji Chun Hua
Ever since I saw MR. VAMPIRE as a kid, I’ve been a fan of the hopping vampire film. Though wire fu is often criticized as being awkward and overly staged, I can’t help but marvel at the work put into this type of film to give the viewer a unique mix of fantasy, horror, and choreography. Yes, that’s right, choreography. Though it is looked at as a fighting style, when depicted on the screen in a manner where life and death is not at stake, it is choreography and though I don’t often get a chance to talk about such a subject here on AICN HORROR, TSUI HARK’S VAMPPIRE HUNTERS sure does give me the opportunity. Being a huge fan of kung fu all the way back to when I was a kid, rewatching this film for review this week had me grinning from opening to closing credits.
All of the standards are here. In the tradition of those old Kung Fu Theater shows (which I watched with my brother after Sunday WWF Wrestling on USA Network), I chose to watch the dubbed version of this film, which made it all the more enjoyable. You’ve got your slapstick overacting between the main four Vampire Hunters who often smack each other around like Moe, Larry, and Curly after too many Sake bombs. You’ve got your over the top sound effects where every movement requires an electrifying swish, whomp, or bloosh! And finally, you’ve got your elaborate sets and ornate weaponry, all gorgeously crafted and oozing with old world mystique.
But on top of all of that, the best part of this film is the expansion of the Jiang Shi, better known as the Hopping Vampire. Unlike Western culture which has differentiated between vampires and zombies, the Hopping Vampire is a combination of both. When a zombie tastes human blood it becomes a vampire. But unlike the romanticized version seen everywhere from the Universal to Anne Rice to TWILIGHT depictions of the vampire, the Hopping Vampire is a decaying corpse, stiff as a board, yet floating and hopping toward our heroes and damsels relentlessly. There’s something utterly scary about the way these inanimate objects move. Instead of shambling slowly like the American undead, they hop, which is a bit ridiculous looking sometimes, but fun nevertheless. Once turned to a vampire, though, the corpses float, their feet never touching the ground, and this is a damn scary effect. According to the film, these monsters spawn from the ancient Chinese custom of preserving the dead by dipping them in wax, making them human statues. Director Wellson Chin takes full advantage of these age old customs and making them absolutely chilling to experience.
On top of all of that, the kung fu is fantastic in VAMPIRE HUNTERS as four warriors (named Wind, Lightning, Rain, and Thunder) and their Master battle legions of the undead. There’s sword fighting, spear flinging, chain whipping, and all sorts of flips and wire fu going on. Rarely is there a moment without either a fight or a horror, keeping this film a brisk adrenaline ride.
There’s a little bit of everything in this one. Zombie wranglers, floating vamps, legions of hopping dead, killer golden cobras, and tons and tons of kung fu. Though the story is pretty simple–a quintet of warriors search out a vampire, lose their Master, and stumble into a plot to overthrow a powerful and rich family–the film itself is as dynamic as they come. I loved every flipping minute of TSUI HARK’S VAMPIRE HUNTERS and if you’re bored of traditional vamps, this is the shot in the arm you need to see.