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May 13th, 2002 Issue #108

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.

Robo Vampire
(1990; Filmark International)

Cover art courtesy Eden Entertainment.

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

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.
Click here for a still of Sorapong Chatri (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 Ho’s NINJA DRAGON, NINJA THUNDERBOLT, and GOLDEN NINJA WARRIOR (available on UK DVD in a heavily cut version).

DVD Specs:

Eden Entertainment (No catalog number) (U.S. Label)
Dolby Digital 2.0
Dubbed In English
Fullscreen (cropped from 2.35:1)
Coded for ALL Regions
91 Minutes
Contains moderate violence and gore, coarse language, and nudity


Film Board Ratings and Consumer Advice



Eden Entertainment DVDs are essentially VHS on a disc: no chapters, no menu, and no extras. Aside from presenting only about half of the original scope image, the image and sound quality are reasonable when one considers that we are dealing with a production from the very bottom of the cinematic barrel. Unfortunately, the splice line is visible at the shot change points and lines can often be seen rolling through the image (evidently a fault of the original master tape, which is also noticeably damaged in spots). ROBO VAMPIRE does not seem to be available from any of the usual e-tailers but often turns up on ebay and can be found in some U.S. department stores for as little as $5.00. It is worth every cent.

Click here for more information about The Hong Kong Filmography

Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2002. All Rights Reserved.
E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com

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