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Mr Vampire II (1986) January 18, 2009

Posted by Cal in : Horror, Comedy, Supernatural, 1980s films , trackback

Director: Ricky Lau  Main cast: Lam Ching-Ying; Yuen Biao; Chung Faat; Billy Lau  Territory: Hong Kong

A team of explorers lead by Professor Kwok (Chung Faat) discover a cave containing the perfectly preserved antique corpses of a family – father, mother and child.  The corpses all have Taoist spells attached to their foreheads, and upon removal the hapless adventurers discover that the corpses are hopping undead creatures intent on causing mayhem upon the living.  Medicine man Lam Ching-Ying (Lam Ching-Ying, in a masterstroke of casting) may hold the key to eradicating the menace before it spreads further with each infected bite.

Have you ever had the movie experience where, before you see a film, everybody says it’s such a complete piece of crap that when you finally get around to watching it you’re left thinking it wasn’t so bad after all?  That was the kind of reaction I had when I first saw Mr Vampire II about ten years ago when it was shown on Channel 4 over here.  However, watching it now for a second time, I can kind of see what everyone was talking about.

The problem mainly lies in the inescapable fact that nearly every scene goes on too long, and yet the whole film is well under 90 minutes in length.  In particular a scene where Yuen Biao fights the parent vampires while under the effect of a sedative seems to go on forever.  Similarly, the section where the child vampire is befriended by a regular family is overlong and the children end up being more annoying than cute, even though the inclusion of a pair of overweight children who aren’t simply there for comedy value is a bit of an innovation.

Mr Vampire 2

It is also a bit of a head-scratcher why Yuen Biao and Lam Ching-Ying aren’t introduced earlier, as they are undoubtedly the main attraction for the film.  They both appear at about the 35 minute mark, which is way too long to wait when the rest of the material isn’t too strong.  Actually, no one really ends up with a lot of screen time on this one for some reason, and it’s possible for completely forget that some people are in it at all (I’m thinking Moon Lee here, who is particularly underused).  The shifting of the setting to modern day Hong Kong in this instalment isn’t as disastrous to the film as you might think, but it has to be said that the ties to the undisputed classic that is Mr Vampire are quite tenuous. 

It is perhaps to be applauded that producer Sammo Hung didn’t simply trot out a carbon copy of the original and instead tried to experiment with the formula.  There are positives: there are a few great gags (and call me sick, but I really enjoyed seeing Moon Lee get hit in the face with a hammer), a couple of decent setpieces and a little bit of atmosphere.  But is any of it scary?  I’d say a bit fat no on this.  Mind you, I didn’t find any of the first one scary, but when it was as entertaining as it was you can overlook things like that.  I also didn’t like the obvious “gross out” moments at the start of the film such as the gutting of a real snake – I thought they were really cheap shocks with no entertainment value.

One aspect of the film which I found quite surprising is that the movie ends up being quite critical of human society.  We are eventually left empathising with the monsters and the shift from human as protagonist to antagonist is handled with a subtlety wasted on such a project as this, but it’s nice to know someone was at least thinking outside the box a little.

Mr Vampire II has a bad reputation, and that reputation is sadly quite justified, even taking into account that the original was such a tough act to follow.  Nevertheless, it is not a complete waste of time and there are a couple of entertaining moments.  My recommendation: see it once and then stick a yellow strip of paper on it with a Taoist spell written on the front to stop it from hopping into your DVD player again.

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