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Blu-ray Review: Mr. Vampire – “A wonderful balance of ass-kicking and physical comedy”

Released for the first time on Blu-ray on the 20th of July by Eureka!, Mr. Vampire is a genre-bending horror-kung-fu-comedy from 1985, produced by multi-award-winning actor and director Sammo Hung (Wheels On Meals, Project A) and starring Hong Kong film award-winning actor Lam Ching-ying (Way Of The Dragon).

The new Blu features a brand new 2K restoration of the film and the first print-run of 2000 copies will feature a limited edition O-card slipcase and a collector’s booklet.

Known as jiangshi or “hopping vampire” movies in China, the vampires in Mr. Vampire and the myriad of sequels, spin-offs and imitations it spawned are very, very different from those in Western culture. In traditional dress, with a Dawn of the Dead comic-book-pale pallor and long blue fingernails they look instantly different, but how they are made, how they move and how they can be stopped are completely different and totally fascinating too.

They move by hopping on both legs, arms outstretched, and are created when a person dies with grievances or stress and their dead body holds onto its last breath, pissed off and refusing to die. As opposed to garlic, crucifixes, stakes, and sunlight, there is a massive and rich lore when it comes to battling hopping vampires and Mr. Vampire introduces and explains them as it goes along — such as them not being able to see you if you’re holding your breath and you being able to “freeze” them by anointing them with chicken blood — before then creating masterful set-pieces choreographed around them.

Taoist Priest Master Gau (Lam), his inept apprentices Chou Sheng (Siu-Ho, Fist of Legend) and Man Choi (Ricky Hui, Hustler From Canton) and rich-girl love interest Ting-Ting (Moon Lee, Fighting Madam) find themselves battling vampires after the reburial of a town elder goes awry, and their fighting the supernatural threats of the vamps and also a ghost bride, as well as a gleefully nasty cop, Brother Wai (Billy Lau, Police Story 2) are a wonderful balance of ass-kicking and physical comedy.

The physical comedy still works because it is so visual and clean and instantly understandable that it is both universal and timeless. Here, the kung-fu is a unique blend of high-flying and kicking wirework and immaculately timed stunts and slapstick. Outside of the fighting, the laughs come from fish-out-of-water, mistaken identity and body control gags that again still raise laughs because they cross cultural and generational barriers.

The disc itself is nice with the menus being a bit vanilla, but the core feature looking almost brand-new. The video encode deals great with all the smoke and shadow and the subtitles are also decent. Jokes are not lost in translation and still make sense and there are no wonky translations, even if there is the occasional squiffy word choice such as “cover the lid” instead of “close the lid”.

There are lots of audio options and we watched with the original Cantonese mono which had no audible flaws. Also available is a pair of English dubs: a “European” one in stereo and an “American” one which is in surround.

In terms of extras, there is a feature-length commentary from Asian film expert Frank Djeng commentary who clearly knows everything about everything and is a lively interesting host who is full of cast and crew info, stories, background, explanations of customs and historical context too.

The rest of the bonus material feels a little lacking in terms of quantity but what there is is class. Three archive interviews with the director and two of the stars are of a satisfying length and provide oodles of tales about the fun and games that were had getting the movie made. Chin Siu-ho (Chou Sheng) has a very fresh memory and lots of stories and info about the stunts and shoot, Moon Lee is super positive throughout and takes you through her life and how it led to Mr. Vampire, while director Ricky Lau explains how his love of horror led to him fighting to helm Mr. Vampire and plenty more “scary black comedies”.

Also present are the textless end credits, which function like a Mr. Vampire highlight reel, quickly reminds you of why you’ve had such a good time and have a smile still on your face; while the original Hong Kong trailer is a gorgeous and beat-up ‘85 trailer, that’s a lot of fun but also shows you how just how good the new transfer is and how much love and hard work must have gone into its presentation.



Mr. Vampire is released on Blu-ray in the UK on the 20th of July and available to order from the Eureka! store and Amazon.

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