By the mid-80's, Lam Ching-Ying had settled into a solid, though seemingly unwavering, career as a third or second tier Hong Kong actor. His skills as a performer were respected but he just didn't quite have that spark or look that would propel him from his place just outside the star spotlight. Then came 1985's HK horror/comedy/action hybrid Mr. Vampire , a flick that cast him as a Taoist priest dealing with all manner of spooks and, of course, Chinese hopping vampires. The film was a hit. Lam Ching-Ying found himself in a lucrative position of having a niche and he spent the bulk of his career until his death in the mid 90's playing some form of the character.
Now, it wasn't like Lam Ching-Ying was playing some spook hunter in a bunch of A class films. Hong Kong cinema of the 80's was highly prolific when it came to commercial b-flicks, and that where most of his work falls. From Exorcist Master (1993) to Vampire Vs. Vampire, Crazy Safari, and Magic Cop, he found himself in a regular gig and audiences loved him for it, like Charles Bronson as a vigilante or John Wayne as a cowboy, people wanted Lam Ching-Ying with a unibrow, wearing a robe, zapping ghouls with ancient spells and some crude animation fx.
Exorcist Master is all about Taoist priest Master Chiou (Lam Ching-Ying- Prodigal Son, Mr. Vampire, Her Vengeance) finding his livelihood as the town's spiritual go-to man threatened when some Catholic monks show up to reopen the local church. The church shut down under mysterious circumstances and Master Chiou feels the place has some bad vibes. The local officials only care how they can use the church as an unaware front for the seedier businesses, including some drug smugglers, who use a hopping vamp ruse.
Master Chiou also has his apprentices, a pair of brother and sister siblings, Moon and Star (Collin Chou- Matrix Reloaded, Dr. Wai), to deal with. Star especially keeps getting into bumbling situations due to his being smitten with a Westernized and cultured childhood crush who has recently returned. While all these shenanigans are going on, within the bowels of church, the former priest has gone all vampire (a westernized gwailo vamp, complete with fangs and cape) and he starts spreading the vampiness. It'll be up to Master Chiou to save the day!
The bulk of the film focuses on comedy, a forte of director and co-star Wu Ma, who'd previously filmed a gaggle of supernatural comedy/action/romance-y flicks like The Dead and the Deadly, Foxy Spirits, My Cousin the Ghost, and Picture of a Nymph. So, along with some supernatural stuff and a little fightin' vampire action, we get to see scenes like Lam Ching-Ying in drag as an old lady trying to do some undercover work at the church, or him and his pupil donning ninja gear, again, to do some investigating. It is what I call a ‟bookend‟ action film, we are treated to the main action scenes in the films first and last thirds, while the middle is carried by comedic gags and some exposition.
The DVD: Image.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Well, unfortunately its not loads of improvement over the muddled HK DVD release. Still pretty rough around the edges, some print wear and tear, just a generally murky, muddy affair particularly weak in the sharpness and color areas. The definition just pales to what you usually expect,... well, unless you are a hardcore HK b-film fanatic. In that case, you wont be surprised.
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0, Mandarin with optional English subtitles. Again, not the greatest source material to start with, a muffled, tinny dub with abrasive sound fx. Those familiar with HK budget films wont be too surprised. The keyboard heavy score is pretty funny, including gratuitous ‟dog woof‟ and a tune that sounds like is a rip off of ‟Funky Cold Medina.‟ The subs are pretty good and thankfully include onscreen signs and text translation.
Extras: Trailer. — Limited Editions have the added bonus of a X-Large shirt, baisc white with an Exorcist Master logo.
Conclusion: This is a real genre fan only kind of movie. I wouldn't suggest it for HK fantasy/action/comedy newbies. The film isn't without its charms and seeing Lam Ching Ying and Wu Ma battling a drooling white guy vamp with a big glowing cross is novel, but Exorcist Master really nowhere near the genre highpoints like Mr Vampire, Encounters of the Spooky Kind, or A Chinese Ghost Story. The DVD doesn't offer much techwise, so it's probably best reserved as a rental.