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Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters

Columbia/Tri-Star // Unrated // June 17, 2003
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted June 9, 2003 | E-mail the Author
Wait a minute??? A recent, fairly fun, Hong Kong b-movie? One with old school HK monsters and fighting and zero pretty-boy actor factor or Westernized stylization? Say it isn't so. Well, that is exactly what you get in the Tsui Hark produced/written Vampire Hunters (2002, aka. Era of the Vampire).

The plot revolves around an order of vampire hunters who seek out the living dead and try to keep hopping zombies from becoming vamps (this is Chinese mythology, not European widow peaked, gothic, sexy vamps) as well as destroying the very dangerous, full-blown vampires roaming the countryside on spoiled ground. After running into one particularly nasty uber vampire, most of the order is wiped out and their leader is missing, leaving only the meteorologically named Wind, Thunder, Rain, and Lighting, who continue the cause by tracking the evil undead.

They follow one to the Jiang household, which is on the eve of a wedding, the beautiful Sasa being married to the houses only son a middle-aged salivating idiot troll. Mistaken for hired help, the four hunters go undercover in the house, which they find to have all sorts of rumors, including those of curses, the living dead, preserved waxed corpses of the family members, and a hidden cache of gold.

And, it is the gold that Sasa's brother, Dragon Tang, is after. However, the group of bandits he sends to infiltrate the house are attacked by a vampire. So, with the king of the undead lurking around, the corpses begin to pile up, and our foursome of vampire fighters will eventually have their hands full.

Make no mistake, Vampire Hunters is terribly written (worse than this review- her-dee-har) and doesn't break any new ground. However, it is entertaining and, although it doesn't live up to them, it is a nice throwback to the good old days of HK action fantasy cinema and the likes of Encounters of the Spooky Kind, Mr Vampire, and the Chinese Ghost Story trilogy. It is just the kind of fun b-film we get so rarely from HK these days, which seems overly preoccupied with gloss, glamour, and conscious cool instead of empty headed off-the-wall cult films.

The real quibbles in terms of story have to do with the usual comic book b-film plotting. In other words, scenes that lead to nowhere and lack of characterization. The four leads names are mentioned briefly and I'm not sure who was who. As if it really matters, since they are given little in terms of traits to distinguish themselves from one another. I think Wind was the tubby guy, and I'm fairly certain Thunder falls in love with Sasa. So, a little fleshing out of character would have been nice. It is muddled storytelling with throwaway side-plotting and scenes that seem to build into tension (like the foursome finding the hidden gold in the families wax museum, or their finding dead birds all over a courtyard and tracking them to a field where scenes before we saw the king vamp lay waste to a bunch of thieves) but then nothing actually happens and its abruptly cut to next scene.

The director is Wellson Chin, a b-helmer if there ever was one, notable for the Inspector Wears Skirts series in the 80's as well as the really whacked out martial fantasy, horror-comedy cheapie Prince of the Sun, sort of the HK answer to The Golden Child but far more silly and entertaining. While the action wanes around the halfway point, really peaking in the opening sequence where the order is all but wiped out and in the bit where our vamp gets gruesome (and I mean blood out of the eyes sucking, head smashing, gut ripping gruesome) on Dragon Tangs bandits, it is still very fun and moves briskly. There is plenty of swordplay and the vampire is traditional, a silent, decaying flesh faced (or maybe it was just old oatmeal) thing hovering around in the air, burrowing into the ground, with acidic breath and metal claws. So, like I keep saying, it is the kind of film HK used to make regularly, and the only real modern effect is some CGI of the vamps blood-sucking breath. It isnt as graphic as The Seventh Curse or Story of Ricky, but it is still effective and fun.

The DVD: Columbia Tristar

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Well, visually the film is pretty flat. The color palette is drab with diffused blues and reds cast over the subdued sets. It is a pretty grainy flick but that has to do with the budget and maintaining a horror feel. Contrast and sharpness are adequate. Being a recent film, there isn't a speck of dirt or print damage to be found. So, most of the quirks in the image have zero to do with the transfer and everything to do with the film production and its horror look. No technical glitches whatsoever. So, Columbia does a good job, which they always seem to do with their newer Asian aqusitions like Shiri.

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 Stereo Cantonese or English tracks. A DD 2.0 French track. Optional yellow English or French subtitles. Voices and music are clear and the sound fx gives plenty of 'whoosh' as the vampire flies by or 'clang' as swords clash. A bit of a mid range mix, not too much bass not too much treble, even though a little of either one could have spiced up a scene or two. To be fair, HK sound has gotten better over the years and this film is proof of that. I really only bothered listening to the Cantonese track. Dubs are for losers. The sub translation was nice and easy to follow except for a scene or two where it was fast.

Extras: Chapter Selections--- Trailers for Cowboy Bebop, National Security and Time And Tide

Conclusion: The barebones presentation makes it a rental for most. As for the film itself, I really enjoyed it. It is totally average, but if you are an HK fan who longs for the days of the good old b-film masterpieces, moldy vampires, whirling wire-enhanced swordplay, and fantasy, you should find that Vampire Hunters really delivers. So, for most everyone I'll say give it a good late night weekend rental and for genre fans it is worth flirting with as a casual purchase.

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