There are five Ricky Lau-directed Mr. Vampire movies — Mr. Vampire. Mr. Vampire II, Mr. Vampire III, Mr. Vampire IV and Mr. Vampire 1992 (the only direct sequel) followed by several connected movies by other directors, such as Billy Chan and Leung Chung’s New Mr. Vampire (these first six movies will be the ones that we’ll be covering), Lam Ching-ying’s Vampire vs Vampire and Magic Cop (AKA Mr. Vampire 5), Chan’s Crazy Safari (also known as The Gods Must Be Crazy II), Andrew Lau’s The Ultimate Vampire, Wilson Tong’s The Musical Vampire, Wu Ma’s Exorcist Master, Wellson Chin’s The Era of Vampires and Juno Mak’s tribute to this series, Rigor Mortis. There are also two TV series: Vampire Expert and My Date with a Vampire.
All of these movies have the Chinese vampire in common. Called the jiangshi, these hopping corpses of Chinese folklore are as much zombies as they are vampires. They first appeared in Hong Kong cinema in Sammo Hung’s Encounters of the Spooky Kind.
Mr. Vampire (1985)
Master Kau (Lam Ching-ying) is pretty much Dr. Strange by way of Taoist priesthood, as he keeps control over the spirits and vampires of China from his large home, which is protected by many talismans and amulets, staffed by his students Man-Choi (Ricky Hui) and Chau-sang (Chin Siu-ho).
Master Yam hires Kau to move the burial site of his father to ensure prosperity for his family. However, the body looks near perfect, showing that it may be a vampire. Taking it home, Kau instructs his students to write all over the coffin with enchanted ink. They forget to do the bottom of the coffin, which means that the vampire escapes and murders his rich son, turning him into a jiangshi.
Wai (Billy Lau) is a policeman who is sure that Kau is responsible (he also has a grudge because a girl (Moon Lee) he likes has eyes for Kau), so he arrests him even as the vampire begins killing others. Kau’s students are tested by a vampire’s boat and also a seductive spirit, but when Master Yam becomes a fully vampiric demon, only the help of another Taoist priest named Four-Eyes (Anthony Chan) can save the day.
Based on stories producer Hung heard from his mother, this movie nearly tripled its budget at the box office. Just a warning — not just Italian movies have real animal violence. There’s a moment where a real snake is sliced apart instead of a fake one due to budget. The snake was used to make soup, but there’s no report on whether the chicken whose throat was cut on screen was used as stock after.
Golden Harvest tried to make an American version — Demon Hunters — with Yuen Wah playing Master Kau and American actors Jack Scalia and Michele Phillips (taking over from Tonya Roberts) were in Hong Kong to film scenes, but the movie was stopped after just a few weeks.
Mr. Vampire 2 (1986)
This film is more about a vampire family than continuing the story of the first movie, despite being directed by Ricky Lau and bringing back female star Moon Lee and Lam Ching-ying.
Archaeologist Kwok Tun-Wong (Chung Fat) and his students have found not just one jiangshi but a mother, father and their son, all kept still because of the magical talismans on their foreheads. Intending to sell the boy on the black market — who would want a child hopping vampire is a question we may not be able to answer — the talismans are removed and Dr. Lam Ching-ying (yes, Lam Ching-ying used his real name for the role), his potential son-in-law Yen (Yuen Biao) and his daughter Gigi (Lee) must stop the plague of the vampires.
Mr. Vampire 3 (1987)
Uncle Ming (Richard Ng) isn’t a great Tao priest like Uncle Nine (Lam Ching-ying), but like an HK version of The Frighteners, he has help from two ghosts. Big and Small Pai. He comes to a small town where supernatural bandits are ruling the night, all led by the evil — I mean, with a name like this, she should be malificent — Devil Lady (Wong Yuk Waan).
This movie has a first for me — evil spirits trapped in wine jars and then friend in hot oil. This is definitely closer to the spirit of the original film, which made fans pretty happy. Also, a witch with a skull inside her hair and a Sammo Hung cameo as a waiter!
If you’re used to the pace of American movies, you may want to drink plenty of Red Bull or Bang before starting this one.
Mr. Vampire 4 (1988)
Four-eyed Taoist (Anthony Chan) and Buddhist Master Yat-yau (Wu Ma) are neighbors, but engaged in a sort of humorous war of words, pranks and ideologies with each other. As a convoy passes their homes — including a vampire that is soon hit with lightning and becomes super powerful — they must put aside their dislike and work together.
You may miss Lam Ching Ying, who for the first time isn’t the lead in a Mr. Vampire sequel. There’s nearly an hour, however, where the two leads try to destroy one another with not a hopping bloodsucker in sight. So while the stereotypical gay character isn’t fun at all, there’s still the knowledge you’ll gain, like eating garlic to defeat a curse.
Mr. Vampire 1992 (1992)
After three sequels, it’s finally time to make an actual sequel to Mr. Vampire, with Master Kau (Lam Ching-ying), Man-choi (Ricky Hui) and Chau-sang (Chin Siu-ho) all coming back. What a wild story they’ve been brought back for, as the soul of an aborted fetus lives within a statue before seeking to take over the fetus that is growing within Mai Kei-lin (Wuki Kwan), the one-time love of Master Kau.
There’s also The General (Billy Lau), Mai Kei-lin’s husband, who is bit by his vampire father and seeks to escape his curse with the help of Kau.
Also — this is a comedy.
What’s most amazing — to me — is that I found my copy of this in my small Western Pennsylvania hometown, in the literal sticks, an all-region DVD that I can only assume came from a foreign exchange student at one of the local small colleges, as there were several other similar films. $1 later and my movie room has hopping vampires on the shelves.
New Mr. Vampire (1987)
Don’t confuse this New Mr Vampire with Mr. Vampire 1992. This installment was directed by Billy Chan and has Chung Fat and Huang Ha as rival brothers Master Chin and Master Wu, with Chin Siu-ho (playing Hsiao Hau Chien) and Lu Fang (known as Tai-Fa) as their disciples.
This is my least favorite of the jiangshi movies I’ve seen, except for the fact that the filmmakers seem intent on making John Carpenter pay for taking so many Hong Kong movie mythos for Big Trouble in Little China by outright stealing music from Halloween and Escape from New York.
Are you willing to take a journey into the world of Chinese vampires? Let us know what you find. Remember, if you get bit, just take a bath in rice milk, then grind down their fangs or drink their blood to heal yourself.