Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Mao shan xiao tang (1986)

... aka: 茅山學堂
... aka: 靈幻祖師
... aka: First Vampire in China, The
... aka: First Vampire of China, The
... aka: Ling huan zu shi
... aka: Spiritual Ancestor

Directed by:
Ying Wong

Hey, at least the title doesn't lie! The opening sequence goes in great, silly detail explaining how the first ever vampire was formed in China. Back in feudal times, warlords were always looking for various ways to prolong their lives. In his search for immortality, Chow, the King of the West, started eating anything given to him by a black magician. Ironically, one of those things ended up poisoning him and leading to his premature death. However, the "bewitched rhino horn powder" (!!) used to preserve his corpse reacted with something given to him by the wizard which combined with the gold threaded jade coat he was dressed in that acted as an "optical condenser" and managed to take advantage of a change in the celestial configuration where nine of the planet lined up and managed to pull the moon closer to the Earth so that the corpse could absorb some of its energy, ended up turning him into a vampire. It's just that simple! Once transformed, a vampire can infect others with just a scratch. Thankfully, before Vampire King Chow could spread the plague too widely, he and his mini-army of vamps were buried by an earthquake.

Many years later in what looks is supposed to be the 1920s, Alexander Tso (Charlie Cho) arrives in a small village along with his assistant Tao (Siu-Ming To) and secretary / photographer Susan (Suk-yin Chong). Alexander, who likes to constantly boast about being well educated which means he's far too arrogant to realize that he's actually a moron, has just been appointed mayor. The villagers turn out to be highly superstitious and everyone believes in ghosts and vampires. For good reason, it turns out. At the Mount Mao school, Master Kent (Kien Shih) teaches his students all about magic, how to prepare corpses so they don't return to life and how to contain ghosts in urns. What he can't do is keep some of his idiot pupils in line. While goofing off, a few of them manage to unleash a powerful spirit called The Ghost of March (Jung-Lee Hwang).

As a way to scoff at the local customs / superstition, the new mayor intentionally moves into what's reputed to be the most haunted house in town, which is indeed haunted by the ghost of a general (Lung-Wei Wang) who doesn't take too kindly to his possessions being tampered with. Unknowingly, Alexander is protected by something called the "three flames," which isn't visible to the human eye but can repel any ghost who tries to harm him. Because the area is so prone to paranormal activity and because the ground itself is cursed, the locals don't bury corpses in the traditional way but instead treat bodies with black dog blood and wedge their coffins in the side of a mountain. Alexander also finds that silly, especially after one of the students finds a piece of jade in one of the holes.

While everyone else is away, Alexander and Tao decide to use dynamite to blow up part of the mountain and, along with it, some of the caskets. They find the jade suited vampire and take it back to their house. Later that night, students Kwong (Anthony Tang) and Lo (Kin-Kwan Poon), Susan and Kent's daughter Kitty (Yan-Chi Wong) encounter a family of hopping vampires (including a mom, dad and little boy) that have been unleashed. They eventually secure them all with spell paper but then must do battle with the ancient vampire once it springs back to life. As if that isn't enough already, the ghost general and his nonthreatening "tammy ghost" son possess Susan and try to make her kill herself so she can become the son's ghost wife.

This is basically just a bunch of nonsense but at least it's entertaining, fast-paced and action-packed nonsense! The plot stays busy, the mummy-like design of the "first vampire" and its gold/jade suit of armor is something different and there are three well-choreographed, lengthy action scenes with plenty of stunt work. While some of the comedy elements work better than others, this does have a few genuinely amusing moments, especially a bit where one of the hopping vampires does jump rope and the antics of a zombie chicken (!) that infects two of the characters who then take on chicken-like characteristics themselves. There's even a chicken theme song that goes "Bock bock bock bock." Ain't no shame in my "I'm often easily amused" game. 

One of the first hopping vampire horror comedies out of the gate after the massive success of the previous year's MR. VAMPIRE (1985) meant this was a moderate success in its home country. It was also released in Japan and Thailand, though I don't believe there's ever been a legit U.S. release. The only DVD releases appear to be bootlegs.

The director (born Wong Hoi Ming) is best known as a fantasy and horror novelist using the name Huang Ying. Many of his books were adapted for the screen through the 80s by Shaw Brothers (Bat Without Wings, Portrait in Crystal, The Enchantress, The Roving Swordsman...) and he also served as a screenwriter, producer and director on a number of films. Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980) and the aforementioned Mr. Vampire were the two biggest hits he helped write. In 1991 he died of a stroke at the age of just 35.

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