Halloween Movies You're Not Watching: Hong Kong's Vampire Kung-Fu Comedies
If Jason and Freddy don't scare like they used to, get familiar with the jiangshi.
Halloween has arrived! If you’re the introverted type, you’re likely preparing the final list of your horror movie marathon the night everyone gets blackout drunk in 30-degree weather. If you’re weary of hockey masks and chainsaws chopping up teenagers and want something different, Hong Kong might have what you need.
Like vampires you know, they’re popular subjects for horror movies and video games. Unlike vampires you know, they know kung-fu and the people fighting them are dimwits.
The Chinese have a rich history in vampire and ghost folklore unknown to the West. One of the most fearsome creatures in Chinese myth are “jiangshi,” stiff-limbed vampires who hop to move and suck qi — the essence of living — from the warm bodied.
Throughout the ‘80s, Hong Kong vampire movies were comedy/horror/kung-fu hybrids that made you laugh as much as they dazzled you with expert martial arts choreography. Sammo Hung’s Encounters of the Spooky Kind is credited with kickstarting the genre’s popularity upon its release in 1980.
In 1985, Mr. Vampire directed by Ricky Lau was released to acclaim, racking up nominations in Best Picture, Best Editing, and Best Screenplay at the fifth Hong Kong Film Awards. The movie launched a franchise that spanned three more sequels, a television series, and a theatrical adaptation in 2010.
The popularity of the genre waned after the ‘80s, but a few noteworthy efforts have tried to bring it back.
In 2003, The Twins Effect was co-directed by Dante Lam and Donnie Yen with a memorable cameo by Jackie Chan as a goofy ambulance driver. A remake of A Chinese Ghost Story was released to a lukewarm reception in 2011, and new entries like Juno Mak’s Rigor Mortis in 2013 and Sifu vs. Vampire in 2014 had varied results.
While the genre may not enjoy the mainstream success it had thirty years ago, it rests comfortably in nostalgia culture just like the American slashers of the ‘80s.
In 2012, Square Enix’s Grand Theft Auto-like open world action game Sleeping Dogs featured the expansion DLC Nightmare in North Point. A tribute to movies like Encounters of the Spooky Kind, the dead have arisen in Hong Kong and the player has to kung-fu his way through hoards of jiangshi and rescue his girlfriend from a resurrected rival gang member.
Jiangshi vampires may never become Halloween staples like witches, ghosts, and the Headless Horseman. But there’s no reason they can’t haunt you or your awesome October 31st movie marathon. Order some take-out and get comfortable.