Five Heroes. A Coven of Vampires. A Lot of Bad Blood.
I'm flesh and blood, but not human. I haven't been human for two hundred
Vampires: evil creatures of legend that live for millennia. Once bitten, their bodies do not die or age, for they are eternal; this is a generally accepted belief in the collective of vampire lore. There have been scores of films revolving around the vampire theme. In most cases, you either see a story about the Count in Transylvania, a horror spoof, or, the current favorite, modern day tales of vampire roaming American metropolises. In most stories, a vampire's life is but a mere side note earning only the slightest mention, if any, in the narrative. But there's much more to tell, as they have lived so long. They've traveled far and wide and have many tales to share. Vampire Hunters, or The Era of Vampire as it's also known, takes a different approach by going way back in time to look at the hunt for a vampire king in Ancient China.
Facts of the Case
In 17th or 19th century China (take your pick, as the film and packaging differ on the topic), Tao Master Mao Shan and his four best students—Wind, Thunder, Rain, and Lightning—are leading a small group of men in the hunt for vampires. These creatures of the undead must be stopped, no matter the cost. After a long and tiring journey, the cabal stumbles across the lair of a vampire king. It's a bloody battle where many men are consumed by the creature. During the mçlée, Mao Shan and his students are able to capture the vampire, but they've underestimated its powers. The vampire is able to overwhelm them, and in the ensuing conflict, Mao Shan and the vampire disappear.
Three months later, the four students are still on the trail of the vile vampire king. They've searched the lands for their master as well, but they have long given up hope of finding him alive. Using a mysterious "vampire compass," the four have been led to the house of Master Jiang. Tonight, his son, the young Jiang, will be marrying Sasa, who will be his sixth wife. It seems all of his wives have died on their wedding night after being bitten by a poisonous snake.
Gaining entry to the wedding party by posing as cooks, the four continue their hunt for the vampire. But there are many secrets lurking in the House of Jiang that will complicate their quest. Master Jiang is the head of a dying family, for only he and his son remain. Using his skills as an embalmer, Jiang keeps the preserved bodies of his family hidden in underground rooms; he cannot bear to part with them. Also hidden down there is a huge fortune of gold.
It turns out the Sasa's older brother, Dragon Tang, has manipulated Jiang into marrying the girl so that he can get a step closer to the Jiang fortune. But his plans go awry when the vampire king reappears and slaughters Tang's men, who were making a secret march to the wedding to steal the gold. Realizing what is happening, the four students attempt to capture the vampire without success. But Tang is livid that his plan is falling apart, so he calls upon a magician to turn all the dead members of the Jiang family into zombies. But if that happens, then the vampire can turn the zombies into a powerful vampire army! Will the vampire hunters be able to stop Tang? Can they kill the vampire king? Will the four students finally be able to lead normal lives?
What a great idea! I simply love the concept behind this movie. Look at the basic elements: vampires, vampire hunting, and Ancient China. As the students are followers of a Shaolin-like philosophy, you know that some excellent fighting will make its way into the story. My mind was racing with the possibilities of vampires flying through the air, being followed by kung fu masters, then engaging in some awesome wire fu acrobatics.
Too bad the story failed to live up to my imagination.
Vampire Hunters is a dismally slow and boring movie. I was stunned at how awful and lacking this film is on every count. At its best, this movie is a bad B-grade Chinese horror flick; at its worst, it's kitty litter. Combining the worst of all worlds, Vampire Hunters has it all: bad acting, a bad script, bad humor, bad makeup, and bad action/fighting. Let's examine why this movie is craptacular!
Bad Acting: I have no idea if any of the four main principals are major players in Chinese cinema, but if I were to guess, and I am, I'd say two of them were simply hired to be "pretty boys." They're too handsome to be the wizened, grizzled, veteran vampire hunters they're supposed to be. Given a "dramatic scene," the two simply have no idea of how to emote, for their entire repertoire seems to consist of widely flailing hand and arm gestures. Expressing about as much range as Kevin Costner in Robin Hood, these two need to take an early retirement from movies.
Bad Script: I like to think I'm capable of following complicated movies. People always seem to be asking me, "What's going on? Who's that guy? Why's he doing that?" Thus, I was annoyed to find myself often having no idea what was going. The movie just jumped around with little exposition or transition from scene to scene. Is that how Chinese cinema works? Is it all implied? You got me. All I know is that it was thoroughly distracting and poorly constructed…but not complicated.
Bad Humor: This one I'm making a broad assumption on, for I can't believe this movie had the intention of being purposefully bad; thus, it must be an attempt at dark humor. A man with six wives? A man embalming his entire family and putting them in the basement? A vampire king that…let me get back to the vampire. It just doesn't work and isn't funny.
Bad Makeup/Worse Effects: It's all on the vampire king here, and this is one ugly vampire. That could be considered a good thing, but it's not. I'd venture that there wasn't even a person acting as the vampire king. For most scenes, it looks like someone put some ratty old clothes on a mannequin and flung him around the woods. On occasion, they'd string him up on wires to make him float and fly, but he never moved. It's this rigid body that simply pops up, doesn't twitch, spews some "death breath" from its mouth, and somebody falls down dead. Oh look! It's the vampire king! Run before he falls on you! This is the most ridiculous interpretation of a vampire to ever grace the screen.
Bad Action/Fighting: The sparsely interspersed action sequences are not all bad but most of them are. I'll admit that the two or three sword fighting scenes are pretty sharp, but that's the end of it. Everything else, what there is, is preposterously silly. How can it be exciting to watch a vampire fight when all it does is stand there? Oh, look! You've thrown some chains on it so now the vampire is going to "fly"—if that what you want to call pulling a mannequin up on a rig and swinging it across the screen. Then there's how a vampire kills people. Never biting anyone, because that would involve some articulation on the piece of plywood under the moth-eaten robe, the vampire either breathes on its victim or touches them. If breathed upon, there's some cheesey effect where the blood and soul of the victim get sucked into the statue. If touched, the poor sod explodes. Granted, that may sound cool, except that only one or two seconds of "death" is shown. You infer it, as you usually get to see a pile of smoking clothes on the ground.
We may have finished my original list, but we're not done yet!
Truly the most egregious problem with this flimsy film is that it's not scary. Not in the least…not at all! At no point did I feel the slightest twinge of trepidation. It was all just mindlessly dull, dreadful, and boring. Besides, how can you ever feel any fear when the zombies in the film actually hop around instead of walking? Must be that dark humor again.
How about this "coven of vampires" that's lauded in the tagline of this movie? A coven? There's exactly one vampire running amok in the entire film…unless they decided to include all those silly zombies. Unless I'm mistaken, one is the loneliest number.
And, would you like to know how dumb our heroes are? Glad you said yes. Our movie starts out with this insipid battle in a graveyard, near the tomb of the vampire king. After the battle, the movie skips ahead three months and implies that our heroes have been schlepping all over China trying to find the vampire. Well, as we spend a little time at the House of Jiang, we learn that it's a mere hop, skip, and jump away from that original graveyard. Gee, what better place for the vampire king to hang out then at his grave? Kinda makes sense to me.
Lastly, there's a little oversight related to the following:
What are your names?
What kind of dumb names are those? From now on, you're Kung, you're Hei, you're at, and you're Choi. Good Chinese names!
Each of our four heroes is named after an "elemental" and is supposed to "specialize in controlling the element of his namesake." Would you be surprised to learn that this is never demonstrated? That would have been cool to see our heroes use these special powers, but this is another notch of failure in the movie.
Fortunately this piece of flotsam is supplement free, so ninety minutes and you're done!
The transfers on the disc are perfectly acceptable for the movie, and are decidedly better than you would expect. Shown in anamorphic widescreen, Vampire Hunters logically takes place mostly at night. Fortunately, the night scenes are well presented with solid blacks and an accurate but mellow palette. By some peculiar directorial choice, every night scene seems to be filled with either fog or rain (yielding the one clever aspect of the film), and the transfer handles them both perfectly without any artifacting, pixelization, shimmering, or other transfer errors. Oddly, the few day scenes come across worse than the night ones, as you see much more grain in the softer looking print. On the audio side, the default setting is a Cantonese 5.1 Dolby Digital track, with the English dub being an option. Either will give you a very nice presentation with clear dialogue and pleasant surrounds, but not much bass.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This movie is so bad, yet I was impressed by its budget. While most of the special effects were crude and laughable, every now and then the producers stumbled across an interesting effect. In fact, most of these are front-loaded on the film, so you are teased into believing you're in for a better show than what you actually get. Additionally, there are some quality set designs and costuming…something to look at as you try to stay awake.
Bad! Bad! Bad! Vampire Hunters had such an excellent premise, but it completely failed on putting it together. It's a convoluted, plodding, ugly story that is totally undeserving of being on disc. I'm not sure why we are being punished with this film, though I'm sure it has something to do with director Hark Tsui (Time and Tide, Butterfly Lovers, Iron Monkey) and his popularity. If you are a fan of his work, then you may find something redeeming in this movie, though I cannot fathom such a possibility. Do not rent this movie. Do not buy this movie. It is a complete waste of your time and money. If you like vampires, look elsewhere because you won't find a good story here.
Guilty! Vampire Hunters is found guilty of sucking, and not in a good way. It is hereby sentenced to death and is to be embalmed and buried under the Jiang residence.
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