Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Jiang shi shu shu (1988)

... aka: Geung si suk suk
... aka: Mr. Vampire 4
... aka: Mr. Vampire Saga
... aka: Mr. Vampire Saga 4

Directed by:
Ricky Lau


Buddhist monk Yi-Yu (Ma Wu) is an elder man of the cloth living in a desolate mountainous region who's just brought in a female wanderer named Ching-Ching (Loletta Lee) as his assistant and pupil. Right next door lives an unnamed Taoist priest (played by Anthony Chan), who's referred to only as "Master" or "Four-Eyed Taoist" because of his glasses. Unlike the monk, who prefers a quiet life of discipline and meditation, the priest is a bit on the arrogant side and is in the not-so-quiet business of capturing and controlling vampires. Using spell paper attached to the forehead, he's able to keep the dangerous undead docile and safely stored away in the morgue. The taoist is also aided by his clutzy pupil Chia-Le (Kar Lok Chin), who falls in love with the spunky Ching-Ching at first sight. Unfortunately, their masters don't get along at all. Both elders have some kind of rivalry going on and can't even sit down to have tea without it turning into a fight. At breakfast, the two get into a food fight, which ends in one shooting peanuts from his nostrils into the other one's mouth.




The monk's morning ritual of getting up before dawn to pray and loudly bang on his gong doesn't sit well with the priest. In retaliation, he gets the monk's thumb print and uses it to create a voodoo doll, which he then uses to make the monk bash his head into the wall and rip out his tooth with pliers. Not one to let the his rival get the better of him, the monk does a magic act of his own to freeze the priest. He and Ching-Ching then have some fun with firecrackers, blowing one up inside his mouth. Back and forth it goes from one "comic" slapstick gag to the next and the next thing we know we're 50 minutes into the movie and nothing of note has even happened. The only real action occurred in an earlier throwaway scene when the priest is marching a dozen or so obedient vampires through the forest and encounters a woman (Pauline Wang Yu-wan) who tries to seduce him and turns into a fox.





Things finally pick up toward the end when a royal funeral caravan (headed by Fat Chung as Taoist Crane) on their way to deliver a corpse to the nearby town stops in for a brief visit. That evening while the travelers are setting up camp, a thunderstorm erupts, which blows the spell paper off the casket and washes away all of the black ink (a preventative measure to keep the body inside). The super-strong, nearly indestructible vampire / corpse returns to life, busts out of its coffin and starts killing everyone in sight. A flamboyant, annoying, stereotypically cowardly gay guy named Wu-yuan (Wah Yuen) manages to scoop up a young prince and make it back to the temple. The rest is basically a bunch of kicking, punching, flipping, fighting, biting, clawing and various comic gags as the monstrous main vampire and those infected with bites attack. No piece of furniture is left intact.




Just as MR. VAMPIRE II (1986) was a significant drop in quality from the original MR. VAMPIRE (1985), #4 in the popular series is a significant drop in quality from MR. VAMPIRE III (1987). Not only does the film take forever to get going, but the main characters are either too mean-spirited, or just plain stupid, to take much of a liking to. Things do change somewhat in the second half when the rivals must work together to defeat the vampires, but Ching-Ying Lam's one-eyebrow priest (a perfect grounding point for the over-the-top gags in the other entries) is still sorely missed here. The laughs are sporadic at best, with childish slapstick involving poking asses, slipping in cow shit, getting whacked over the head with bamboo sticks, getting hit in the crotch repeatedly, breaking furniture, being constipated after having to suck down a vat of oil, etc. Particularly embarrassing is the gay "comic relief;" as the "sissy man" screams, flails, develops a crush on our hero and proves to be utterly useless when the vampires lay siege on the temple.





To be fair, some cool things do occur now and then. The crazy mythology in these things always provides passing interest, such as eating whole cloves of garlic to break curses and bathing in rice milk to heal vampire wounds (and keep those bites from transforming you into a vampire). In another scene, the priest and his line of vampires do the limbo under a tree branch and, when he gets lazy, he has a frog lead the process of the dead (which naturally backfires on him). Imaginatively choreographed action and impressive stunt / wire work (showcased primarily in the last third) remain the highlight, of course.




To my knowledge, there are three additional films sometimes seen as parts of this series; the unofficial fifth entry (which is known primarily as MAGIC COP, but also as MR. VAMPIRE 5), as well as the unofficial spin-off series NEW MR. VAMPIRE (1987 and aka "Kung Fu Vampire Buster") and NEW MR. VAMPIRE 2 (1989 and aka "Vampire vs. Vampire"). Ricky Lau (who directed the first four) had nothing to do with the others.

★★1/2

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