I will never forget the first time I saw Mr. Vampire. I was sitting around being silly with a bunch of friends and someone put the movie on in the background. A few minutes in, someone said, “oh my God, y’all, did you see that?” We ran back the tape to see Man (Ricky Hui) eat some of Wai’s (Billy Lau) hair and proceed to take control of his body until Wai has stripped off and made a complete ass of himself in front of his beautiful cousin Ting (Moon Lee).We just about pissed ourselves laughing and watched it several more times. No movie (and almost no thing, full stop) has consistently made me as happy for as many years as Mr. Vampire. And so from that inauspicious beginning was born my fifteen year (and continuing) obsession with Hong Kong movies.
Possibly the best element of Asian horror is the very thing which makes American versions of these movies fail: you don’t have to spend half to two-thirds of the movie watching a bunch of people argue about whether something supernatural is going on. The characters are aware of and trying to fight the monsters from the beginning. I can’t even imagine an American Mr. Vampire. It would be like Ernest P. Worrell and the Ghostbusters Versus Police Academy but with fewer sequels. My God, can you imagine Bill Murray out-smartassing Steve Guttenberg while the undead corpse of Jim Varney accidentally exposes the corrupt schemes of a united G. W. Bailey and William Atherton? Me neither.
I’m not sure if Mr. Vampire really caused the Hong Kong horror industry to take the goofy tone it maintained until the Pang brothers came along to scare the crap out of us, but it certainly was a major factor. While the bumbling friends Man and Chau (Chin Siu-ho) provide plenty of laughs for the audience, it seems that the various curses, hopping undead, and even the succubus they’re supposed to be helping Master Kau (Lam Ching-ying) work against are serious business.
I can’t say that all the people of Hong Kong are or were superstitious; however, it does seem that things like fortune tellers are more prevalent and/or acceptable in that culture, or were at one time. I think that’s why Mr. Vampire is such a favorite to me: it has occult elements that are fascinating to me because of their novelty. On top of that is good quality slapstick humor, which is funny in any language. Slapstick may be the real international language, despite what Ricky’s mom said in Better off Dead.
The only thing I don’t understand is this: why does Priest Four Eyes (Anthony Chan) have a herd of hopping vampires? Maybe I could find out if Netflix would stock Mr. Vampire 2 and 3. (This does not excure me for not tracking these movies down between 1996 and now, but I need a scapegoat.) That reminds me, if you haven’t seen this one, order it from Netflix now, because they seem to be taking stuff off their list at an alarming rate. I promise to do my part and send this copy back tomorrow.