Color, 1985, 94 mins.

Directed by Ricky Lau

Starring Lam Ching Ying, Chin Siu Ho, Ricky Hui, Moon Lee / Written by Szeto Cheuk Hon / Music by Lip On Tat / Produced by Samo Hung / Cinematography by Ngor Chi Kwan

Format: DVD - Media Asia / Tai Seng (MSRP $39.95)

Letterboxed (1.78:1) / Dolby Digital 5.1

Many Hong Kong devotees have strong feelings about hopping vampires. Some love the springy bloodsuckers, while others find the depiction hackneyed and stupid. That said, the film that started it all, Mr. Vampire, is by far the best of the lot (though its two immediate sequels aren't bad).

Sort of an Eastern response to Ghostbusters (which spawned many imitations and parodies), Mr. Vampire uses Oriental culture as the springboard for a unique, creepily amusing vampire mythos. Here, the vampires can be controlled by Taoist incantations, administered on an enchanted written parchment affixed to the creature's forehead. Unfortunately, if the spell falls off, the vampire immediately begins to hop and search for blood. In a clever twist reminiscent of the Spanish Blind Dead series, the vampires can also be thwarted from detecting a human's presence if the potential victims hold their breath. Kou (Lam Ching Ying), a priest and expert vampire wrangler with the most memorable case of unibrow in cinema history, tries to teach his two bumbling apprentices, Chou (Chin Siu-Ho) and Man-Chor (Ricky Hui), the ins and outs of vampire control, but several comedic (and horrific) mishaps along the way to derail their education. The bulk of the story concerns an elder, now converted to vampirism, whose son recruits the trio for help; however, the narrative also tosses in a variety of marginally related supernatural hijinks, including a bewitching female ghost whose flying head participates in a memorable acrobatic attack scene.

Like most of the imported Media Asia titles, Mr. Vampire benefits greatly from its DVD remastering. Anyone used to those old faded VHS eyesores will be thankful for this release and should be clamoring for parts II and III as well. That said, the image isn't really demo material; the moderate letterboxing is a nice gesture, but the film still looks like a mid-'80s product, with some harsh overlighting here and there and some color smearing that causes blue-lit shadowy scenes to melt into mud. Still, it's by far the best presentation out there, and the limited 5.1 remix does the best it can with a thrifty, low budget soundtrack. The usual wide assortment of subtitles are offered; the English translation is identical to the prior theatrical and video releases, which means plenty of skipping, broken paraphrasing, and humorous typos, but it gets the job done all the same. The jokey theatrical trailer is included, as well as the usual Media Asia promo reel. Thankfully, the company seems to have finally embraced workable, animated menu screens (not to mention time encoding), which makes navigation smoother and more entertaining. In the end, Mr. Vampire is a long overdue and welcome release, particularly for fans of vampires and knockabout kung fu action; Hong Kong fans should eat it up, and newcomers should find that this, along with the more serious and ambitious A Chinese Ghost Story, makes a great, accessible introduction to Eastern cinema fantastique.

Mondo Digital Reviews Mondo Digital Links Frequently Asked Questions