New Mr. Vampire 1992
Hong Kong 1992
Directed by Ricky Lau Koon Lai.

Lam Ching-Ying, Chin Siu-Ho, and Ricky Hui, the original Sifu and disciples, renuite to fight angry Hell Babies, and, of course, more hopping vampires.

Hell Babies, for those not in the know, are fetuses who hate all humankind, because every time they try to be reborn and reenter the great wheel of life, they get aborted. Once this happens three times, they become Hell Babies. Ah yes, I can see the pro-life ad campaign now. Small statues of children are often placed in a temple by the mother when a baby is stillborn or aborted. In this way, the child's spirit can be honored by the priests in the temple and not neglected. Babies who die in this way are not yet part of any family and therefore they lie outside of the Confucian system of ancestor worship. With no one to pray for them and intervene for them in the Underworld, they can have a rough time of it, and get very bitter and hateful.

Taking care of the babies now are sifu Lam Ching-Ying and his students, Man Chor and Chiu Sang (Ricky Hui and Chin Siu-Ho). The spirits of the children reside in the stone statues, usually, but they come out on occasion to help the Man Chor and Chiu in exchange for treats. However, the students trick the children, and the children, very unhappy, do all those things that you are most likely to see a child do in a Hong Kong movie, which is, beat people up, and pee all over everything.

Before Ricky Hui even has time to dry off his face, they're off to meet Birdie (Sandra Ng), who loves Lam Ching-Ying almost as much as she loves making funny faces, mugging to the camera, and wearing hideously patterned clothes. Chiu and Man Chor have to deliver some of the Hell Babies to her, because Ching-Ying is worried that his disciples will somehow screw things up, a sound assumption based on almost ten years of prior movie experience. Birdie appears to be a psychiatrist, or at least she behaves pretty much like most psychiatrists I know. She has about ten minutes of schtick that she performs when she is first introduced, prescribing placebo medication, holding a seance, and giving a handful of balloons to a man obsessed with squeezing breasts. Just when I thought I might start vomiting uncontrollably, another long schtick revs up in which she tries to seduce Ching-Ying. The only thing that makes this scene amusing is that it becomes apparent that Ching-Ying feels the same way about Birdie as I do. Misery loves company.

It turns out it's not the students who negligently unleash the terrible dead this time around. Sometimes people come to the temple to 'adopt' one of the stone babies -- they take it home and respect it along with their ancestors. This brings good luck and is a charitable deed. A young woman stops by Birdie's, and while Birdie is busy trying to be funny, the woman picks out a baby statue to adopt. Fortunately for the plot, she doesn't take a regular baby, but a Hell Baby. Which is just as well, because she's not a regular young woman, but a malicious ghost demon-type woman.

Now, had the idea of the Hell Babies been developed a little more, made a little more interesting, there could have been a fascinating movie made about it. Too bad they took this chilling and creepy concept and built a slapstick comedy around it instead. And since no one was looking to deeply into the implications of the concept, they needed a subplot, and in a hurry.

Enter another of the Vampire movie regulars -- Billy Lau Nam-Kwong. In Mr. Vampire, he played a Captain. Here, he is a General, owns his own villa, and has a group of soldiers around him all the time. He's also married to Ching-Ying's boyhood sweetheart, Michelin. Michelin is essentially a living stack of white tires that makes its living selling road maps. Or at least that's what I've always been led to believe. Ah, the gaps in my boyhood education. The General has been bitten by his father, who died six months ago and has turned into a vampire. The General isn't dead yet, though his fingernails are very long and he occasionally hops instead of walks. Billy Lau seems to have great fun with his role.

You know, sometimes I go see some community theater in my hometown. The productions there are very similar to the movie Waiting for Guffman. But many of the people in the play are friends of mine, so I watch it anyway. When they ask how well I liked the play, and I feel the play was incredibly, indescribably bad, I sometimes reply, "It looked like you guys were having a lot of fun up there." And a typical actor, so wrapped up in telling stories about themselves, would use that as a convenient launching pad for another witty and clever story about putting on the play, and who said what, and how funny this thing or that thing was, and forget the fact that I didn't actually say that I liked the play or that I thought it was good. Whenever I see Billy Lau in a movie, I am reminded of those times.

Once Ching-Ying recognizes that the General is cursed to become a vampire, he explains the cure: simply catch a vampire, file down its teeth, put the powder in tea, and drink. What the hell? He pulled that one right out of his ass! But I suppose if you're just going for humor, convention goes out the window. And anyway, there are some important questions being answered here. This is a film that tackles the big issues. Not only does it explain the curative powers of Vampire tooth powder, it also answers a question that has haunted me for years: What if you have to take a major dump right when a Vampire attacks? True, we got a taste of Action Crapping in Enounters of the Spooky Kind 2, but here we get to see it running loose, so to speak. All three of our heroes eat some bad sashimi and need to expertly evacuate while subduing the vampire. The scene gives "Half a Loaf of Kung-fu" a whole new meaning.

It ends up that one vampire is not enough (after all, this is a sequel -- one is never enough), and so Man Chor and Chiu have to go to a town of Vampires to collect some more tooth powder. This leads to some entertaining humor, at least, and is one of the more engaging moments in the movie. In the meantime, Ching-Ying discovers that his old love, Michelin, is actually carrying a Hell Baby to term, and when it is born it will kill her and take revenge on the world. The evil ghost-demon girl has become Michelin's handmaiden, and is taking care that the Hell Baby grows strong in mommies womb. She does this by feeding Michelin some pulsating, evil-looking, noodle dish, very similar to a noodle dish I ate the last time I was down at Three Happiness Restaurant in Chinatown for Dim-Sum. Must remember not to order that again.

Ching-Ying enlists the help of Birdie to try to lure the Hell Baby out of Michelin's womb. It all culminates in a grand battle between our heroes and the Hell Baby, the ghost demon-type girl (who apparently is equipped with a built-in self destruct mechanism), and several dozen vampires.

The film is mostly harmless, mild entertainment. I imagine if Disney made a Chinese Vampire movie in the seventies, it would have looked something like this, except there would have been less shit jokes and the sifu would have driven around in a Volkswagon Beetle. The movie simply did not rise up to the level of its ideas. To credit where credit is due, even though they dusted off the same old cast from the first Mr. Vampire movie, at least they didn't dust off and recycle the same old story.

Rating: Marginally Recommended (Marginally Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on March 29, 2004.

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