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I always like to slip a Hong Kong horror movie into these proceedings, but rarely do they match up with a space in the alphabet that needs filling. But lookie here, there’s a disc I’ve owned for a number of years but never watched, and it starts with a V: Vampire vs Vampire. Don’t bother looking for it on Amazon.
This is not as I expected, the fourth movie in the Mr. Vampire series, though it carries over a ton of characters from the first movie. If you haven’t seen Mr. Vampire, that is something you need to remedy, and soon. Lam Ching-ying is The One-Eyebrow Priest, a Taoist master who always has to intervene when supernatural creatures start causing trouble. He has two comical apprentices, the elder of which is again the criminally under-rated Chin Siu-ho; the younger (and usually stupider) is played by a variety of actors, this time it’s Liu Fong. The first Mr. Vampire sequel added another character to the household, a Little Vampire who’s not evil like your typical hopping vampire. But like I said, this isn’t a Mr. Vampire movie.
Except it is.
After taking care of a nasty Palm Tree Spirit, Lam is called upon by the village elders to figure out what’s wrong with their water supply. Turns out there’s too many bats in it (literally) so Lam does a complex fung shui ritual to find a better place to dig a well. All very well (ha!) and good, except a flock of bats moves the marker so the crew will dig in the wrong place.
There’s also a ruined Catholic church nearby, which a group of sisters is working to re-open. Another stock character in the Mr. Vampire company, the local Captain, wants his men to burn down the place because he thinks the bats are coming from there; Lam intercedes, and he and the Mother Superior (Maria Cordero) find the skeleton of one of the original priests who built the church, supposedly vanishing after sending word that he and his companion were battling demons. As this skeleton apparently died by shoving a cross into its own heart, Lam deduces the demons were defeated, and bravely, too. Unfortunately neither he or the Mother look up, because the ceiling is covered by bats.
The well being dug in the wrong place uncovers a decaying body, also with a cross in its heart, but this cross has a ruby embedded in it, which the Captain must have to satisfy his equally venal fiancée. This causes him to swap bodies on the pyre which Lam insists upon, so he can have time to saw the jewel off. The cross is finally removed, which as we all know, is how vampires come back to life in movies like this.
This was Lam Ching-ying’s first time as film director (though he had been action director for numerous movies), and he doesn’t try to do anything too extraordinary, but as usual, the action sequences are top-notch. Again, if you’ve seen any of the Mr. Vampire movies, you know what I’m talking about: Lam’s dance-like, confident approach to magic looks real and is quite convincing. The fact that, if magicdoesn’t work, he can kick you seven ways to Sunday is a good back-up plan. There are at least two plot lines that are not resolved when the movie ends, but hey – welcome to Hong Kong cinema. The Big Bad Guy is vanquished, what more do you want?
Another staple of the Mr. Vampire movies (of which this is not one) involves the old-fashioned priest coming up against modern, Western ideas and failing to understand them to some comic effect. This time out it’s the nuns of the convent trying to save the Priest’s soul when all he’s trying to do is conceal the fact they interrupted his bath and he’s not wearing any pants. In 1993 there would be a much better exploration if this sort of cultural clash with Exorcist Master, which is basically The One-Eyebrow Priest versus Dracula. At the end Lam and the Chinese Catholic priest he’s been knocking heads with the entire picture realize they have to combine the spiritual powers of East and West to defeat the King of the Vampires, and it’s pretty damned cool.
Anyway, I’ve long been a fan of Lam Ching-ying. He probably chafed at being typecast by his most famous movie, but man, was he ever good at playing that role. He elevated several movies simply by his dignified presence, even mean-spirited drivel like Skin Stripperess. He succumbed to liver cancer in 1997, and the world became a much less magical place.
YouTube has not recognized the brilliance of Lam Ching-ying yet, so we’ll just have to be satisfied with this tribute video by Lily Wang: