double feature: VAMPIRE EFFECT and TSUI HARK’S VAMPIRE HUNTERS
You know how it is – sometimes the mood hits you for a little martial arts/horror combo, specifically the type found in Hong Kong vampire movies from the early 2000s, so you check out two of them. At least that’s how I dealt with the problem. The first one in my double feature, VAMPIRE EFFECT (2003) credits Dante Lam (BEAST COPS, THE STOOL PIGEON) as director and none other than Donnie Yen (HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME) as “co-director” and “action director.” Unsurprisingly, the action is the best part.
The original title is TWINS EFFECT, because it stars a pop duo called Twins, made up of Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung. But nobody knows what that is here and there are no twins in the movie, so I guess this is our equivalent to when Germany changed ROVER DANGERFIELD to ROVER & DAISY. And this is another one of those pop star vehicle movies that doesn’t really have an equivalent here exactly. I mean, you don’t see Tegan and Sara doing a vampire movie. So far.
Choi stars as Helen, a heartbroken young woman who, while grieving a breakup, hits it off with a vampire prince named Kazaf (Edison Chen, GEN-X COPS 2: METAL MAYHEM) who’s enjoying a glass of blood in a fancy restaurant. She doesn’t realize what he is, even though she has some knowledge of such matters because her brother Reeve (Ekin Cheng, YOUNG & DANGEROUS) is a vampire hunter.
But don’t worry, Kazaf is trying to be an enlightened modern vampire, forbidding his minions from drinking blood except for the old stuff his family sends him in wine bottles. “Let’s get with the times, man. We’re the next generation,” he says to his snooty assistant Prada (Anthony Wong, HARD BOILED, EXILED, LEGEND OF THE FIST, IP MAN: FINAL FIGHT) as they buy a church to live in. He’s also modern in that he sleeps in a nice padded coffin with florescent lights and speakers wired in. It looks like it got done up at West Coast Customs.
Kazaf and Helen become infatuated with each other, as illustrated in a lovey dovey montage where they talk on the phone while she bounces on a trampoline holding a dog and he rides around his church on a scooter. The prince is apparently about the biggest dummy imaginable, because he asks her on a date during the day, forgetting that he’s a vampire and obviously can’t do that, has never done that, would have no reason to think of doing that since it’s not a thing that has ever happened in his life. Just one of those mind slips like when you ask somebody to meet you underwater or in space and forget you wouldn’t be able to breathe. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done that.
Fortunately Prada teaches the prince one weird trick (one that Kazaf’s fellow next-gen vampire hipster Deacon Frost also figured out) of putting on heavy sunblock for temporary daywalking. On their date they stroll around a beach and then decide to crash a random outdoor wedding by pretending to be a cousin of the bride. They see decorations that say “Ivy & Jackie” and then they meet the groom, and it’s Jackie Chan!
No joke, for the next five minutes it goes off on a tangent about Jackie’s wedding and how his best man lost the ring. There’s a little physical comedy bit about him trying to stop already-wasted Ivy from drinking more champagne, but otherwise it wouldn’t matter in this scene that it’s Jackie Chan. The relevance is that Helen saves his ass by loaning him Kazaf’s bat-shaped ring as a stand-in, and later he returns the favor when they run into him on his job as an ambulance driver. (That answers my question – he’s not playing himself, it’s that thing where his character is named Jackie.) In this scene he hangs out the door of the ambulance and runs along the ground when they get attacked by motorcycle vampires. Then he fights one, gives him the camel clutch, scurries up a tall pole. Jackie stuff.
Jackie didn’t produce the movie as far as the credits say, but he does sing the theme song along with Twins.
The weirdest/dumbest part of that scene is that I kept thinking one of the vampires looked like Will Ferrell, and I guess they were conscious of that because it turns into a joke about the two vampires doing the neck thing from SNL/NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY. I don’t know if that’s a timeless reference in Hong Kong, but here it’s pretty dated.
Some of the romantic comedy stuff is mildly amusing. I kind of like when he tries to confess that he’s a vampire by showing his eyes turn all blue and extending his fangs and hissing at her. She says, “You’re being a jerk!” and thinks he’s just trying to get rid of her. I’m not sure she’s all there.
The better part of the movie is the stuff about the cool vampire hunter brother Reeve. After his partner dies, the vampire hunting agency sends him a new one named Gipsy (Chung). When he shows her the ropes we learn the premise of “the vampire effect”: they drink from a vial of vampire blood extract and it makes them “strong as an ox” for an hour and a half, but then they have to take an antidote or they turn into a vampire. He disguises the antidote as banana extract, which causes a baking mixup and he has to scarf down a bunch of muffins to stop from turning.
For some reason when Helen and Gipsy first meet they have a gravity-optional rooftop fight over a teddy bear. That escalates into a pole fight (with pole vaulting), but soon they become friends and call themselves sisters-in-law. One of them, I’m not clear which, has an AMELIE poster on her wall, plus a print of a Sesame Street parody of Boulevard of Broken Dreams and some South Park postcards. So this is a vampire story specific to the early 21st century, when we watched AMELIE and, uh, NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY I guess.
When Gipsy finds out Helen is dating a vampire she helps her hide it from her brother. So this is about both vampires and vampire hunters having to become more liberal.
I was sure I was gonna love this movie from the introduction of Reeve, hunting with his first partner Lila (Josie Ho, STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI). Reeve chases a vampire on a train parked in a train station, and a whole mob of vampires jump out to fight him. There’s a shot of five of them jumping through the train windows at the same time. Lila is in a hallway above, running to help. She does a somersault, fires a grappling hook out a window, it breaks a window on the train and loops around a vampire’s neck, she throws it over a rafter, leaps out and grabs it, swings down as the vampire is yanked out the train window and up in the air as a counter weight, she kicks through the train window into a vampire who she knocks out the window on the other side and then she flies out and leg-scissors a guy’s head and retracts the rope into her grappling gun and a blade pops out and she impales a vampire with it.
All I ask is that more movies have more shit like that.
These vampires are mostly white dudes described as “European vampires.” Their leader Duke Dekotes (Mickey Hardt, MAX HAVOC) drops down upside down from the ceiling (I love it). I assume Yen did this shortly after he did BLADE II, which came out the year before, and there seems to be a big BLADE influence here, including a vampire that gets chased at a dance club and lots of BLADE II-esque digitally enhanced leaping vamps, scurrying up walls, animated SPAWN capes and flying weapons. I remember hearing at the time that this was an example of Hong Kong starting to come into their own with digital effects working with their style of filmmaking instead of just imitating what Hollywood did with them. (Except in BLADE II.)
The Duke and his European vampires are trying to kill Kazaf as part of a plot to use royal blood to control a cool looking metal tome called the Day For Night book. Unfortunately nothing in the movie matches that train station battle, but it gets cool again in the finale in the church, utilizing tons of digital effects – vampires turning to dust, magical beams and glows and shit – but also wires and other stuntwork to depict lots of giant anime style leaps, swinging on ropes, kicking and swords.
They all work together. Even non-vampire hunter and possible Audrey Tautou fan Helen flies through the air and kicks off her boot so that it slaps the Duke in the cheek. Good shit. Also he has a metal claw.
The beginning and ending are good enough that I kinda liked this one. I should note that the version I watched might have been the American one, which reportedly cuts out 20 minutes, adds in a bunch of other minutes, mixes up the order and is “unwatchable” according to an IMDb review. Also if there was anything you needed to know the music of Twins to get then I definitely didn’t get that.
By the way, this has a BATMAN & ROBIN ending shot establishing a new team of a vampire hunters. There actually is a TWINS EFFECT II, which I might be watching, but it’s not about this trio, it’s some of the same actors in a totally unrelated story.
TSUI HARK’S VAMPIRE HUNTERS a.k.a. THE ERA OF VAMPIRES is from 2002, produced and written by Tsui, who was directing BLACK MASK 2 around that time. The director is Wellson Chin (PRINCE OF THE SUN). It’s an entirely different feel from TWINS EFFECT because it’s a period piece and the comic relief is pretty minimal – it’s much more interested in creepiness.
It’s the story of an old vampire hunter master (Chunhua Ji, MASTER KILLERS, THE LEGEND OF FONG SAI-YUK 2) and his four disciples, Thunder, Wind, Rain and Lightning. I can’t tell from the credits which is which, but I know Thunder is played by the icon Lam Suet (VENGEANCE), I believe Ken Chang (EXTREME CHALLENGE, KILL ZONE) is Rain and the others are Michael Chow (POLICE STORY 2) and Danny Kwok-Kwan Chan (the goalie in SHAOLIN SOCCER, Bruce Lee in IP MAN 3 and 4, also in that Milla Jovovich Hong Kong movie THE ROOKIES).
These weather guys and their master are out there getting it done, using a magic compass to detect vampires and slay those motherfuckers. It is explained that if someone is not at peace when they die their corpse can build up enough negative energy that it starts to move, and begins to eat flesh to fuel itself. A zombie. And after a zombie has persisted for long enough and eaten enough it becomes a vampire. If you get bit by a zombie you can survive it, but if you get bit by a vampire you are doomed to become a vampire. (I thought that was kind of a cool detail, but it never really becomes relevant, and vampire bites prove to actually be survivable anyway.) We also learn that vampires don’t like water, which becomes useful when the master dumps a bucket of it on one of them and we see him turn invisible in the vampire’s vision.
So the vampires in this one are the zombie type you may have seen in other Hong Kong horror – lumpy, gooey, melty bastards with evil eyes, sometimes they breathe smoke, sometimes they fly, sometimes they hop, you know the type. Great guys.
The hunters get separated from their master during a battle, but want to fulfill their mission. The compass leads them to the home of Master Jiang (Yu Rongguang, IRON MONKEY, LITTLE BIG SOLDIER, THE KARATE KID remake), whose about-to-be-married son is killed. He doesn’t know about the vampires but hires the hunters as servants and to try to catch the snake he thinks bit his son.
There are a few different things going on, like some guy scheming to steal Master Jiang’s gold and Rain falling in love with Jiang’s son’s fiancee/widow/whatever Sasa (Anya, NAKED WEAPON). But the most interesting part is what’s going on in his cellar. Noticing Sasa’s grief about the loss of her husband, he’s kinda like Here, this’ll cheer you up and brings her to his cellar where her dead fiancee is covered in wax and posed like a mannequin. He did the same thing with his wife and says it’s great because he can still spend time with her and doesn’t have to listen to her talk. (Okay, this guy is not a good husband.) This is his proprietary embalming method and in fact he has a bunch of other waxed up corpses down here too.
When the boys find out they know this is a vampire hazard. Those things could melt and zombie up. It turns out their master came to this place chasing a rumor about a vampire that was started by Jiang to scare people away from his stash of gold. Good thing he tried that Scooby-doo shit though, because they’re here to intervene when somebody turns his corpse collection into a mob of hopping vampires.
They’re reunited with their Sifu in time for him to do most (almost all, really) of the fighting against a “King Vampire.” It’s a long, drawn out battle where Sifu chops the king’s head off and impales it on his sword, but the headless body comes after him, so he bisects it, but then a gooey new head emerges from its belly. Sifu sacrifices himself to kill him in a cool way: he has a bundle of dynamite attached to a chain that leads up to the roof of the temple. He wraps the chain around himself and the vampire and then lightning strikes the chain, igniting the dynamite.
Neither the DVD or IMDb credit an action choreographer, so luckily there’s the Hong Kong Movie Database to tell us it’s Tony Tam Chun-To (CRYSTAL HUNT, LETHAL PANTHER).
One thing that holds the movie back at times is the mixed bag score by J.M. Logan (TERROR TOONS, BLACK MASK 2), who in his defense is also the makeup effects guy (along with Michael Shelton, HEAD OF THE FAMILY) and he’s very consistent at that. Some of the music, including the end credits and some simple percussion stuff, is successfully foreboding, but at other times it has that low rent not-quite-convincing-artificial-orchestra sound and it’s just kinda twiddling around busily in the background rather than working beneath the images to support them.
But overall I like the feel of it. Despite a few digital effects, this is mostly a throwback to an ‘80s or early ‘90s style of Hong Kong cinema. It takes place almost entirely at night, often with a dark blue sky and light beams coming through smoke. There are three cinematographers credited – Joe Chan Kwong Hung, Sunny Tsang Tat Sze and Herman Yau. One of Hung’s previous credits was THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR II, and I’m not saying this looks nearly as good as that, but it’s kind of in that style. Yau was and is better known as a director – some of his more famous ones are EBOLA SYNDROME, THE LEGEND IS BORN: IP MAN, IP MAN: FINAL FIGHT and SHOCK WAVE 1 and 2.
Between the two films in this double feature I’d say TSUI HARK’S VAMPIRE HUNTERS is the more consistent one, and the style I prefer, especially if I’m in a horror mood. But the fighting is simple and down to earth compared to what Donnie came up with for VAMPIRE EFFECT, and the highs of that one are more exciting than anything in VAMPIRE HUNTERS, so I might recommend that first to most people, if they were interested in such a thing. We’ll have to wait and see if it ever comes up.
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