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Issue #162a HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES June 2nd , 2003

Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters
(2002; Film Workshop/Hark & Company/Fortissimo Film Sales/The Vampires Co)

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

Cantonese: Keung si dai si doi
Mandarin: Jiang shi da shi dai
English: Vampire Era

Alternate English Title: The Era of Vampire (sic)

In spite of what is implied by that new American title, Tsui Hark only wrote and produced this period thriller, handing off the direction to horror veteran Wellson Chin Sing-wai (THOU SHALT NOT SWEAR, THE THIRD FULL MOON). Taoist priest Mao Shan (Mainland martial arts regular Chi Chuen-hua) leads pupils Rain (Lam Suet), Thunder (Michael Chow Man-kin), Lightning (SHAOLIN SOCCER's Chan Kwok-kwan), and Wind (SHARP GUNS' Ken Chang Chi-yao) into battle against a particularly powerful vampire. The mission goes awry, villagers' lives are forfeited, and Mao is lost and possibly now a keung si himself. Three months later, the four students detect negative energy at the Jiang family estate, where the young master is about take the pretty Sasa (NAKED WEAPON's Anya Wu, looking uncomfortable in period garb) as his bride. The elderly Master Jiang (Yu Rongguang) asks the men to attend to his deserted estate and they use the opportunity to investigate some strange occurrences in a nearby forest. In actuality, things are no less odd inside the grounds: the Jiangs are noted for their wax-based corpse preservation techniques and the master has several rooms worth of deceased relatives on display. Sasa's brother, Dragon Tang (Horace Lee Wai-shing), is convinced that the old man has a fortune in gold stashed somewhere on the grounds and hires an evil Taoist master (played by an almost unrecognizable Chen Kuan-tai) to create a diversion by reviving all of the Jiang corpses. Just to make this undead chaos that much worse, the vampire the team originally faced is also floating around the vicinity claiming more victims.

Still unreleased in HK and given only a few scattered midnight screenings in America, VAMPIRE HUNTERS is a noble and predominantly entertaining attempt to update the MR. VAMPIRE formula. In the plus column, the film features a good amount of efficiently staged wire-enhanced martial arts action, and the technical credits are solid, with the sort of atmospheric lighting and camerawork one has come to expect from both Tsui's productions and upper tier HK horror features. The genre components are also reasonably inventive; the vampire king depicted here looks like his Golden Harvest predecessors but is considerably more powerful, draining the fluids from his victims in the manner of LIFEFORCE's alien bloodsuckers. Where the movie falls short, however, is in the area of personality. While it is always a pleasure to see veterans like Chi, Yu, and Chen gracing the screen, none of the performers are able to rise above their sketchy characters. In particular, our four nominal heroes are quite underdeveloped and largely interchangeable, and Anya Wu fails to cut it even as the requisite "flower vase." That said, VAMPIRE HUNTERS remains an entertaining ride and is head and shoulders above the DV garbage that passes for HK B-movies nowadays.

Cover art courtesy Columbia Tristar.

Yu Rongguang. Image courtesy Columbia Tristar.

Chen Kuan-tai. Image courtesy Columbia Tristar.
Columbia Tristar #081680 (U.S. release)

Cantonese (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 5.1) and French (Dolby Digital 2.0) Language Tracks (all post-synced)

Optional Subtitles in English and French

English Closed Captioning

28 Chapters Illustrated in the Menu With Video Grabs

Enhanced for 16:9 Displays

Letterboxed (1.85:1)

Coded for Region 1 Only

NTSC Format

89 Minutes

Contains moderate violence and horror

DVD menu courtesy Columbia Tristar.

Canada (video): 14A
Great Britain: 15
Nova Scotia: 14
Ontario: AA (Violence, Gory Scenes)
United States: R (Violence and Gore)

The anamorphic transfer is up to Columbia Tristar's usual high standards, with good color and detail levels. The film is not as glossy as Tsui's other recent productions but the presentation is quite satisfactory, and the lively audio mix makes inspired use of the rear channels. Thankfully, the English subtitles are actually subtitles and not the dubtitles found on some Columbia Tristar titles. The only extras are trailers for COWBOY BEBOP, NATIONAL SECURITY (why?), and Tsui's TIME AND TIDE.

Update (July 17th, 2003): Francois Tissandier, president of the Cinemasie Association (http://www.cinemasie.com/) wrote in to say that the Singapore VCD of the film (under the original ERA OF VAMPIRES title) runs 104 minutes and that the production company timed the movie at 108 minutes. Thus, Columbia Tristar's release is a re-edit which also changes the ending, making it more pessimistic and less original, according to Francois. So, fans of the picture may wish to track down that VCD.

Singapore reader Caroline Chai reveals that a DVD edition is also now available in her country. The disc is coded for Region 3 only and has a listed running time of 108 minutes. The fact that the VCD runs four minutes shorter is presumably because it is formatted in PAL.

Cedric Munoz, webmaster of www.hkmania.com, also wrote in to say that the transfer on the VCD utilizes red and green filters, while the American version uses blue. Cedric feels that the movie works better with the former color scheme.

Thanks to everyone for their updates!

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