Mr. Vampire (1985)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2009-02-14
Master Ko is a Taoist priest with a busy practice getting the dead resituated so they won’t hang around and make problems for the living. He has all the tools of his trade at his disposal and is adept with each of them; he has a fine mortuary with plenty of room for coffins and extra space for overnight storage of hopping ghosts on their way to the appropriate reburial ground; he is clearly a professional whose word can be trusted, who works hard for his clients and who could be the head of the local chamber of commerce. It is a demanding trade with immediate and dire consequences for the clumsy and incompetent. A poorly mixed compound, badly printed prayer or even allowing a candle to flicker can mean the hopping undead are released. In most cases this would lead to a loss of business and face. Occasionally, as “Mr. Vampire” makes clear, it might mean unleashing an inhumanly powerful and all but indestructible partially re-animated corpse to prey on the living.

While precision is important in the Taoist priest business so, apparently, is giving jobs to relatives and the relatives of friends which is how Master Ko winds up with two unqualified assistants. Almost everything that goes wrong is due to the stupidity, lasciviousness or general oafishness of his two helpers but he is so forbearing that he continues to trust them with vital tasks which they continue to get wrong. In many belief systems the use of sacred or consecrated words, artifacts or ceremonies is a very grievous offense, so it isn’t surprising when Man and Chun misuse the power of the Taoist prayer written with gold ink on yellow paper in order to disrupt the courtship of the gorgeous Ting Ting by the loutish police chief. It is also one of the funniest scenes in a very funny movie with Man, having wrapped a hair plucked from the head of the cop in the prayer, swallows it forcing the cop to perform every move that Man does including slapping himself, ripping his clothes off and chasing Ting Ting.

One reason that “Mr. Vampire” works so well is the casting, perfect in (at least) two of the roles. Lam Ching-Ying could not have been better as the one-browed master. Charismatic, athletic, with excellent comic timing and a great deadpan look, he might have been born to play Master Ko—which, after a few years of sequels he may have thought himself. Pauline Wong was ideal as Jade the ghost who wanted to get married and who targeted Chun as her husband. Jade is more than a being with supernatural powers. She has an evil but extremely attractive force, like the Sirens who lure men to their death with their songs, one who could both seduce with earthly beauty and compel with magic. Pauline Wong, alluringly sexy and as perfect as a cosmetics ad, was convincing as an irresistible woman.

With isolated but wonderfully executed action scenes, including a number of two story falls, detailed set design and more than adequate cinematography, “Mr. Vampire” is highly recommended.
Reviewer Score: 8