Vampire Buster
Hong Kong 1989
Directed by Norman Lau Man, Stanley Siu Ga Wing.

It's right in the middle of the Cultural Revolution and Cheung Il (Kent Cheng) is being denounced by his son, waving Mao's little red book and shouting that he now 'has no family except the state.' It's out with the old and in with the new, too bad that old Ming vase being tossed away has a demon trapped inside, waiting to get out...

Five hundred years before, the evil disciple of a priest was captured inside. His son doesn't buy it, and Cheung Il has to throw the vase into the ocean. It washes up in Hong Kong twenty years later and ends up at an auction, where Councillor Kay (Stanley Fung) buys it for two million HK dollars.

Councillor Kay is very, very rich. But at the same time, he seems to be a pretty decent opposing the construction of a nuclear power plant near Hong Kong, making him quite popular. His girlfriend, Mable, wants his money, but otherwise is having a relationship with Mr. Chan, a phony exorcist who makes a living advising people how to bet at horseracing.

The Councillor also has a son, Jackie (regrettably, Jackie Cheung) who has a new girlfriend that he calls 'a result of drunkeness,' and who he likes mainly because of her resemblance to his nanny when he was a child. She always wants to go to bed with him, which he tries to avoid, presumably because he is gay, or still believes he is four years old, which is how he behaves. Then again, the same could be said about any performance Jackie Cheung has ever done.

Mable convinces Kay to hire an exorcist to examine the vase. She brings in Mr. Chan, who succeeds in releasing the evil, demonic priest, who possesses Kay. In the meantime, Cheung Il arrives from China (illegally) and makes his way to Kay's house, only to find that he is too late. When he fights against the demon, Cheung Il uses bells, mudras (hand gestures), and his most powerful weapon, the turobar, a small ceremonial dagger. Later he calls the Buddha to enter his body and fight for him. But in addition to all of these Buddhist trappings, he also uses Taoist talismans. So what is he? A buddhist priest or a Taoist priest?

I suppose the answer is both -- and neither. Neither because this story takes place in modern times. China is officially athiest and it appeared that as Cheung Il survived the Cultural Revolution, he did by keeping his religion discreet. Both because he cites his ancestor of 500 years ago defeating the demon originally. 500 years back would place us in the Ming Dynasty. During that time, Taoism and Buddhism was merging. In Buddhism, Zen was on the way out, and devotional Buddhism was in. Those who were enlightened were thought to gain magical powers. By the end of the Ming Dynasty, Confucian sages, Taoist immortals, and Buddhist bodhisattvas were combined into one great pantheon of deities. Later, Taoism and Buddhism reclaimed much of their individuality, but many crossovers still exist.

But apparently having both Buddhism and Taoism wasn't enough for these filmmakers, so we add an additional scene in a Church, where Jackie is mocking Christianity while the reverend is preaching about Revelation. (The frequency of which you see priests discuss this book in movies makes me wonder if there are any other books of the bible that people actually read). The priest explains about the evil that will be unleashed in the world before Jesus returns. While I was still struggling over the implications of a Ming Dynasty Taoist priest fulfilling the prophecies of the New Testament Book of Revelations, Cheung Il shows up and tries to warn Jackie and his girlfriend that his father is possessed. Jackie continues to behave in a pre-pubescent manner, and Cheung Il gets embroiled in a debate with the Catholic priest about reincarnation (Cheung Il asks, 'Who gets reincarnated as themselves?' The priest replies, 'Jesus. He rose from the grave after three days, and everyone saw him.' 'What about the Moon Princess, then?' 'That's just a Chinese fairy tale.' 'Yours are just Israel fairy tales.' etc, etc).

At last, the family begins to catch on that dad is a demon. When the demon is weak, he reverts to his original form, which looks sort of like a really, really old Rod Stewart. Mable sees him that way and goes to the useless Mr. Chan for help. Cheung Il steps in to help instead, but his demon-abduction plan gone awry, and he winds up in the hospital, where, because of his injuries, he is unable to use his mudras to fight the demon. In the end, Jackie, Jackie's girlfriend, and Mr. Chan must work together to defeat the demon-possessed Councillor.

The story is another twist on the theme of ancient powers of the mainland coming into conflict with modern Hong Kong. This would be a throw away film, but it somehow makes it on the strength of its leads. Kent Cheng is great as the the kung-fu action priest. Stanley Fung makes a very dangerous looking demon. Jackie Cheung, though, is in full annoyance mode. He may end up in a lot of good movies, but sometimes he doesn't contribute to the film being good. This is one of those times. Recommended.

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on March 29, 2004.

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