Coming up in November we’re reviewing Mill Creek’s Sci-Fi Invasion 50-Film Box Set — and we take a poke at Willie Palmer, aka Godfrey Ho, and joke about his bunny vampires in Robo Vampire; however, those rascally vamp-rabbits aren’t from cinematic ineptitude: they’re from Chinese legend: the Qing Dynasty legends of the Jiangshi (meaning “hard or “stiff”). Their tales first appeared in widespread print in 1789 by way of the literary visions of writer Ji Xiaolan. Director Yeung Kung-Leung was the first to bring the Jiangshi to the big screen with 1936’s Midnight Vampire. The Chinese text, spoken, is pronounced Wǔyè jiāngshī, and actually translates as “Midnight Zombie” in the English. Thus, while me may be a bit rough on Ho’s inversion of Chinese vampires, it actually works as a smart parody on the Jiangshi genre. Who knew?
As you can guess: this movie — a tale about a dead man who returns from the grave to kill his brother — is impossible to find, with trailer/clips and images even harder (pardon the pun). How difficult? Even the film’s IMDb page is a barren wasteland; Letterboxd doesn’t list the film in its digital catalog. Where’s Criterion Collection and Kino Loeber on this one? (Hey, at least Kino Loeber picked up all of Jean Rollin’s ’70s erotic vamp tales, so all is well, KL!)
The Hong Kong film industry — as with Italy’s — is not one to pass up a hot trend when they see one: they’ve been responsible for more of its fair share (starting in the ’80s) of hoping vampire movies than any other Pacific Rim country, starting in 1936 with Yeung Kung-leung’s Midnight Vampire — released just five years after Universal’s Dracula in 1931 (the first licensed cinematic adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel). While it was shot first — but released after (and not based on Stoker’s work) — Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer brought his silent, 1932 vampire tale (the exquisite) Vampyr, aka The Dream of Allan Gray, based on elements of five short stories — “Carmilla” in particular — from J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 collection of supernatural stories In a Glass Darkly. However, prior to these tales was F.W. Murnau’s unauthorized, 1922 inversion of Stoker’s work, Nosferatu.
The most popular and widely accessible Jiangshi tale is Ricky Lau’s 1985 action-comedy take on the Qing Dynasty legends, Mr. Vampire (which provides the above image; so don’t email us: we posted the image on purpose to make a point). That film was produced by Sammo Hung who, if you know your Walker, Texas Ranger trivia, starred on that CBS-TV program and had his own spinoff series, Martial Law. And Sammo Hung got the industry-fad of ‘80s jiangshi movies a-hopin’ with 1980’s Encounters of the Spooky Kind; the loose sequel/sidequel was, of course, Mr. Vampire.
And how it is that Chuck Norris never fell into Hong Kong B-Moviedom and kicked some comedic, Jiangshi stiff-ass punks? The tales of the hoping bunny vampires will never tell. . . .
Update, October 2022: We had an enjoyable Facebook exchange this weekend — with a reader, the chap below in the comments — and one of our critical contemporaries, one well-versed in Asian cinema, regarding Yeung Kung-Leung’s Midnight Vampire.
The short of the story: Courtesy of Lingnan University in Hong Kong, we’ve collectively confirmed this classic of Hong Kong Cinema — the first film from that country concerning vampires — film is truly lost, forever: both images of and the film itself, are gone.