The ‘Chinese Vampire’ genre has a complex and distinct mythology on screen, but Mike Leeder notes that the latest entry really does aim to clean up the streets…
‘The Vampire’ has long been a staple of Hong Kong Cinema, but the Chinese version of the vampire (as shown in the likes of Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, and especially the Mr. Vampire series and its various spin-offs) is a little different from the Western idea of the vampire and his behaviour. The genre was given some *ahem* new blood a few years ago with Juno Mak’s Rigor Mortis, which paid homage to the vampire mythos and the movies themselves. It saw Mr Vampire star Chin Siu-ho giving a JCVD styled performance of a lifetime playing a somewhat down-on-his-luck version of himself.
Now, thanks to producers Angus Chan and Ha Yue, directors Chiu Sin-hang and Yan Pak-wing, we will get the unleashing of the Vampire Cleanup Department, giving us an interesting take on the ‘Chinese Vampire’ genre. paying homage to its past and hinting at its future.
Vampires have haunted Hong Kong for centuries, their existence known to the government, but kept from the public as much as possible. Operating in the city under everyone’s noses, is an official special action unit whose task gives them their self-explanatory name, the Vampire Cleanup Department (VCD). Posing as street cleaners on the night shift, they are the new Hong Kong Van Helsings who use giant garbage bins to contain the vampires they capture, and operate out of a secret base disguised as a garbage station.
One night, Tim (BabyJohn Choi) is set upon by vampires and is rescued by the VCD, whose Senior Advisor Uncle Chung (Richard Ng) discovers Tim’s immunity against the vampire toxin. Realising the unlimited potential of his immunity, Team Captain Chau (Chin Siu-ho), Magical Taoist Priest Ginger (Yuen Cheung-yan), Technical Advisor M (Bonnie Chiu), and weapons expert Kui (Lo Meng) begin training him, passing on their knowledge and experience, hoping to turn him into the ultimate Vampire Hunter!
However a chance encounter with a pretty female vampire named Summer -with whom he begins a relationship – not only brings him into conflict with the VCD but also to the attention of the Vampire King!
Vampire Cleanup Department wears its homages-sources pretty openly: it references the entire Mr Vampire franchise and its various spin-offs, all manner of Chinese supernatural elements and culture from movies and real life, through references to Russia’s Nightwatch (the forces of good fighting the supernatural forces of evil while pretending to be Garbage men!), Rigor Mortis, Blade, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and more.
As we note above, the cast is impressive and led by TV idol BabyJohn Choi (we do wonder how long he will be keeping that name!), and veteran performers including the one and only Richard Ng, Mr Vampire and Rigor Mortis hero Chin Siu-ho, Shaw Brothers legend Lo Meng, the mercurial and mischievous Yuen Cheung-yan from Charlie’s Angels, the lovely Bonnie Chiu, Stephen Au from Body Weapon, Eric Tsang from the My Lucky Stars series and comedian Jim Chim.
The film hits the screen across Hong Kong and South East Asia this week, and here’s hoping the film hits the spot ala Rigor Mortis and Gallants (paying homage affectionately) as opposed to the terrible Vampire Warriors from a few years ago.
As a handy guide to the genre, we’ve compiled this list of source material to check out…
Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires – Shaw Brothers joined forces with Hammer Films films for this missed opportunity. The premise and cast are great – Dracula travels to China to lead a vampire clan and Peter Cushing joins forces with David Chiang to stop him – but the execution doesn’t live up to the promise. Its well worth tracking down, but more to inspire thoughts of what could have been.
Mr Vampire – Sammo Hung produces and Jeff Lau directs and we are introduced to the Chinese Vampires we know and love. All manner of official sequels and spin offs followed. The film gave Lam Ching-ying his trademark role as the Chinese Van Helsing!
Magic Cop – Lam Ching-ying’s Vampire Hunter comes into the present day with this entertaining action comedy, which sees Lam battling a mystic menace played by Michiko Nichiwaki.
Romance of the Vampires – A stylish ‘Cat 3’ take on vampires, with Yung Hong playing the blind girl who becomes the object of affection for Ben Lam’s vampire. It’s very well shot, lots of violence and more than a little sex, and a finale borrowing from Near Dark.
My Date with a Vampire – The late lamented ATV hit it big on the small screen with three series focusing on the inter action between vampires and humans, borrowing from both the Eastern and Western take on the vampire. Following ATV‘s closure, Fox Networks Group Asia acquired the rights for one third of ATV‘s library including My Date with a Vampire, so we may well see a new take on the idea.
Rigor Mortis – Juno Mak delivers a very self aware reverential black comedy, as Mr Vampire hero Chin Siu-ho plays Chin Siu-ho, an actor who found fame in the Mr Vampire series but has fallen on hard times, and moves into an apartment block inhabited by some very familiar faces.
The Vineyard – James Hong (from Big Trouble in Little China) stars in this American take on the Chinese Vampire… see also The Jitters for another Westernized take on Chinese vampires.
The one American take on Chinese Vampires we’d love to have seen is the abandoned Golden Harvest project Demon Hunters, which was an English language take on Mr Vampire, with Pointman Jack Scalia and The Beastmaster‘s Tanya Roberts starring alongside Yuen Wah (who had played the main vampire in Mr Vampire) as the Lam Ching-ying inspired character. Several days of footage were shot, but the film imploded, in part due to various production problems including communication issues between Scalia, Roberts and the non English speaking Yuen Wah. A pet project for Golden Harvest producer David Chan, the footage sits in a vault somewhere waiting to be discovered in years to come…