Mr. Vampire (1985)


Written and directed by Ricky Lau

According to the Hong Kong horror-comedy Mr. Vampire, which can be obtained on DVD from, Chinese vampires are like Western vampires in that both dress elegantly, drink blood, and can only be killed by special ritual means. Though the Chinese methods involve Buddhist sutras written on what appear to be Post-It notes, which paralyze the vampires as long as the notes stick to their foreheads, and the liberal use of sticky rice (not ordinary rice… remember this, it's an important plot point), this is not what makes Chinese vampires special and unique and unlike any other vampire.

Are you ready for it?

Are you sure? Here goes: Chinese vampires hop. Yes, hop. In fact, they are commonly referred to as "hopping vampires." Mr. Vampire takes full advantage of this phenomenon in the opening scene, in which a cavalcade of vampires in silk coats take advantage of a wind which blew off their sutras and begin hopping away. Other than that, the plot of Mr. Vampire is only of average weirdness on the Hong Kong fantasy film scale. Or maybe I've just gotten inured.

A Taoist magician known as One-Eyebrow Priest (Lam Ching-Ying, Michelle Yeoh's real-life sifu) and his two apprentices are hired to dig up the body of a man who was buried in unhallowed ground and in a position of extremely bad feng shui. Unsurprisingly, he's turned into a vampire. But before One-Eyebrow Priest has a chance to apply the sticky rice and chicken blood, he's thrown in jail for committing a murder which was actually done by the vampire.

Meanwhile, the vampire escapes, one of the apprentices falls in love with a female ghost who hitches a ride on his bicycle, and the other apprentice is bitten and starts turning into a vampire because the local rice-seller sold them regular rice instead of sticky rice, so the standard anti-vampirism preventative of dancing on a bed of rice didn't work.

With me so far?

Mr. Vampire isn't particularly scary, though it has some scenes that may have you holding your breath. (The vampires are apparently blind, and track people by the sound of their breath. Hold yours, and the vampire won't attack. Now keep holding it until the vampire has left the room…) It leans to the comedy side of horror-comedy, and it's quite funny. And though I wouldn't call it a martial arts film, it does include several well-choreographed fights.

It also contains enough Chinese folklore and magic to intrigue and delight anyone who knows all there is to know about brownies and selkies and nuckelavies, and wants to learn about the peculiarities of new magical creatures.

Though it's not mentioned in the movie, for your own safety, you should know that Asian vampires may also be distracted by spilling grain in front of them. (It doesn't have to be sticky, or even rice.) They will be unable to leave until they have counted each grain, during which time you may flee. This sounds like obsessive-compulsive behavior to me.

Perhaps all fey creatures are obsessive-compulsive. Think about it: brownies flee if you thank them, dragons are obsessed with gold, and ghosts can't bear to leave the location they've settled on to haunt. If Elfland, East or West, ever gets treatment for this, we mortals will be in big trouble.

[Rachel Brown]