Hong Kong Digital
is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- associate
editor / film reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author
of The Hong Kong Filmography.
In the early 80s, partners Joseph Lai and Tomas Tang did well for themselves grinding out cheapo kung fu films which, despite being produced in Asia, were intended primarily for distribution in Western markets. By the time that Menahem Golan's ENTER THE NINJA launched an all-new martial arts movie craze, the pair had split up, with Lai heading IFD Films and Arts and Tang running Filmark International. Rather than creating several new films to cash-in on this fad, Lai hit upon the idea of taking old HK, Taiwanese, Thai, Filipino, and South Korean pictures, considered unreleaseable in Western markets, and dropping in new, ultra-cheap footage of caucasian actors and altered storylines incorporating ninja characters and action sequences.
The Nadir of Law Enforcement...Robo Warrior!
Image courtesy Eden Entertainment.
When IFD enjoyed substantial success with these cut and
paste monstrosities, Filmark quickly joined the fray and began cobbling
together their own which, almost without exception, are even worse. Alternating
between convoluted and hilariously incoherent, these hybrid features are
the ultimate in unashamed con jobs, sporting horrendous dubbing, inept
action, amateurish performances, grossly mismatching film stock, and music
pirated from a variety of Western movies and old Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk
albums. On top of all this, the character names are almost always anglicized
and the supposedly secretive ninjas (whose fighting abilities seem far
more rooted in Chinese styles than Japanese) parade around in multi-colored
outfits, often sporting headbands that read "Ninja" on them.
Aside from two or three of the leads, none of the original actors or production
crew are ever credited (we are instead given screens filled with phony
English names) and the "new" films are so calculated, they almost
always clock in at exactly 90 minutes. By the end of the decade, the ninja
craze had run its course but the partners pressed on anyway, with Lai
cobbling together four THUNDER NINJA KIDS movies and the pathetic superhero
yarns CATMAN IN LETHAL TRACK and CATMAN IN BOXER'S BLOW. Tang, meanwhile,
seemingly became obsessed with keung si (hopping vampires)
and proceeded to put them into virtually all of his later projects, including
this mind-boggling mess.
Tired of being foiled by drug enforcement agents, a gang of caucasian heroin smugglers fight back by enlisting the services of a crooked Taoist priest and launching "The Vampire Project." Their plan is to stash the drugs inside the bodies of some keung si but bumblers Ken (Sun Chien) and Tony (Donald Kong To) accidentally revive the creatures and several are destroyed in the ensuing melee. Further problems ensue with the living dead lackeys, prompting the arrival of a ghost named Christine (played by a white actress in a diaphanous gown), who is peeved that the priest has turned her dead lover, Peter, into "The Vampire Beast" (your standard issue keung si sporting a dimestore gorilla mask). At the urging of his sentimental boss, the priest proposes to join Christine and Peter in the bonds of unholy matrimony, if they agree to be obey his orders. While out with the priest on the gang's next job, The Vampire Beast kills agent Tom Wilde but a government scientist transforms him into The Robo Warrior, an unstoppable, crime-fighting android (judging from the hilariously shabby result, he must gotten his equipment and materials from a dumpster behind the local Radio Shack). At this point, the plot is periodically interrupted by random scenes from an old Thai picture about drug enforcement agents (led by Sorapong Chatri) battling a Golden Triangle drug gang that is apparently allied with the one in the new scenes. Meanwhile, the Robo Warrior battles both undead and human adversaries but is blown to smithereens by a rocket launcher. Re-assembled in a procedure that appears to take all of 30 seconds, the robot is soon back prowling the beaches in search of smugglers, while the Thai actors blast away at each other with M-16s in the old footage. Eventually, our ambling bucket of bolts (which must be the only metal man with five o'clock shadow) locates the gang's main hideout and does battle with The Vampire Beast in the streets of downtown HK.
This vampire wants blood! ... This vampire gets blood! Images courtesy Eden Entertainment.
Wow! Even those who actively seek out the worst movies ever produced
will be left slack-jawed by this mix-and-match catastrophe, which must
have sported a budget in the triple digits. One can only imagine what
was going through the minds of the performers appearing in the HK sequences,
which feature direction (credited to the non-existent "Joe Livingstone"),
acting, choreography, editing, and special effects on the level of a junior
high school project. The Robo Warrior (also seen in Filmark's equally
wacky COUNTER DESTROYER) is an especially egregious creation; the ratty
suit has clearly been sewn together and would not pass muster at a childrens'
Halloween party. Home video has been blamed for the death of drive-ins
and inner city grindhouses but think about the benefits? Without it, how
could we have ever experienced the magic that is Joseph Lai and Tomas
Tang? If you survive ROBO VAMPIRE and actually want to experience more
of this uniquely Chinese exploitation form, keep an eye out for such wonderfully
nutty films as DIAMOND NINJA FORCE, SCORPION THUNDERBOLT, NINJA AVENGERS
(aka NINJA OPERATION 8: CHAMPION ON FIRE), NINJA: AMERICAN WARRIOR, THE
NINJA EMPIRE aka (NINJA KNIGHT: THUNDER FOX), Godfrey Hos NINJA
DRAGON, NINJA THUNDERBOLT, and GOLDEN NINJA WARRIOR (available on UK DVD
in a heavily cut version).