Director: Daniel Chan
Cast: Ronald Cheng, Yuen Biao, Michelle Hu, Philip Ng, Kelvin Kwan, Bella Law, Kitty Jiang
RunTime: 1 hr 36 mins
Rating: M18 (Sexual Scenes)
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/sifuvsvampire
Opening Day: 23 October 2014
Synopsis: Small time gangster Nicky and his friend Boo get the assignment of a life time, to threaten Charlie Jiang , a feng shui master to exhume the corpse of the great grandfather of TV station tycoon Kelvin Chow. A new burial is said to bring Kelvin great fortune and prosperity but things take a turn for the worse when his great grandfather’s corpse turns into a Vampire King and is let loose inside the TV station while a show about Zombies is being filmed. To Nicky, ghosts or vampires only ever exist in storybooks and movies. It wasn’t until Nicky meets a beautiful female ghost Tomorrow that he begins to understand the existence of the spirit world……
In its heyday back in the 1980s, the “vampire horror” was very much an icon of Hong Kong cinema, personified by the ‘Mr Vampire’ and ‘Happy Ghost’ series. It was this era that Juno Mak paid tribute to in his directorial debut ‘Rigor Mortis’, a delightfully meta-piece of fiction that ultimately got too arty for its own good. Not to worry though, you’ll have none of that pretension with ‘Sifu Vs Vampire’, a much more simplistic throwback to the “keung si” genre that sees veteran actor Yuen Biao return in a leading role.
Yes, those who were fans of ‘Mr Vampire’ will no doubt make the association with that franchise, but whereas Yuen was playing a vampire in both that movie as well as its spiritual predecessor ‘Encounters of the Third Kind’, he is here taking over the role of the titular ‘si-fu’, That’s right – Yuen plays a feng shui master named Charlie Jiang, who is enlisted by TV station tycoon Kelvin (Kelvin Kwan) to exhume the grave of his great grandfather and ends up dealing with a far scarier creature raised from the dead that has with links to his past.
Since this horror comedy is scripted by Wong Jing, there really isn’t a need to expound on the plot machineries. Indeed, the set-up serves merely to lend some form of coherence to the random gags which the infamous Wong Jing throws at his audience, and as anyone who has seen his movies can tell you, the whole is ultimately only as good as the sum of its individual parts, or to be more precise, the hit to miss ratio of his endless stream of gags. In the case of ‘Sifu Vs Vampire’, the odds begin one way and slowly but surely tip the other, and let’s just say that it doesn’t turn out for the better.
To be sure, the first half hour is quite the hoot, especially for a laugh-out-loud sequence where Master Charlie is called by two low-life gangsters Nicky (Ronald Cheng) and Boo (Philip Ng) to exorcise the wife of their triad boss (Tony Ho). The latter has been possessed by several demons at once, and quite unfortunately is holding her husband’s virility hostage between her teeth. None of the other lackeys seem to know how to save their boss, so Nicky gamely enlists Charlie’s assistance, who proves quite the expert in such otherworldly matters. A combination of witty lines and sharp delivery make this sequence a winning delight, and establishes a cheerfully irreverent attitude that is reminiscent of the spirit of the ‘Mr Vampire’ movies.
Alas, Wong Jing seems to have exhausted his comedic spark shortly after, so much so that what follows fails to raise much of a chuckle. A flashback establishes Kelvin’s great grandfather as a powerful vampire who nearly killed a teenage Master Charlie before the latter’s father gave his life to protect his son. That same vampire is let loose no thanks to a manipulative medium (the alliteration was deliberate by the way) played by yet another veteran actor, Ricky Yi. Chaos ensues at Kelvin’s TV station named AKTV (cue a now tired riff on the longstanding rivalry between ATV and TVB), where both great grandson and his employees are turned into bloodsucking monsters. But save for a re-awakening at a funeral parlour that sees Tony Ho surprise those gathered for his wake, there is hardly any humour to be found.
It isn’t the fault of the cast, who try to make the best out of the shopworn material. Ronald, in particular, exercises every facial tick to keep up the energy, but is somewhat let down by his co-star Philip Ng, who is a better fighter (remember him from the Wong Jing-scripted Once Upon A Time In Shanghai?), a lesser actor and an even lesser comedian. Yuen Biao projects an appropriately stately and serious image, but this is hardly the role or – for that matter – movie that should serve as his comeback into a leading capacity; in fact, Yuen is even more criminally under-used when you consider how he is assigned an assistant played by Mainland star Jiang Luxia who does most of the kung fu fighting in the movie.
As he did with ‘Young and Dangerous: Reloaded’, Daniel Chan proves no more than Wong Jing’s director for hire, adding little to the mix except to be where Wong can’t be while shooting his mega-blockbuster ‘From Vegas to Macau 2’ in Thailand. As well-intentioned as this movie may have come to be, ‘Sifu Vs Vampire’ banks too heavily on its audience’s nostalgia for the bygone era of “vampire horror” and too little on its own merit. The fact that it is the second Wong Jing- scripted film in two weeks to be released should also give you an indication of just how much – or little – time and thought had gone into this farce; little wonder then that it hardly breathes life into a genre which has been left for dead for more than two decades now.
(Neither a horror nor a comedy, this throwback to the era of "vampire horror-comedies" is not even good enough for nostalgia)
Review by Gabriel Chong