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Weather Report: Thunder (Michael Chow), Rain (Lam Suet) and Wind (Ken Chang) charge ahead in 'Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters.'

Zombie Hop

In 'Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters,' the Chinese bloodsuckers hop to it

By Richard von Busack

FOUR CHINESE BROTHERS work together in the 17th century on vampire patrol in Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters. They're named Wind, Rain, Thunder and Lightning, no relation to Earth, Wind and Fire. Vampirism is as serious a social problem in Imperial China as it is here, though the feeding habits of the Chinese vamp are quite different. There, reanimated corpses--swollen with negative energy--bunny-hop around in the manner of an extinct dance known as the "Pogo." If these zombies should devour some human blood, they will turn into your serious vampires.

Now that that's established, the plot becomes easier to relate. A rich miser named Jiang (Wang Shen Lin) has been crying vampire for many years in an effort to spook robbers away from his golden hoard. Jiang's son is about to take as his bride Sasa (Anya), the daughter of an equally awful lord named Dragon. It doesn't look good for Sasa, since Jiang's son has run through six wives already. Since the Jiangs made their fortune in the wax business, they have a curious custom of drying their deceased and giving them a wax coating. In fact, the old man keeps his wife's oozing wax-covered cadaver in the dining room ("Sometimes it's a blessing for a couple if one of them can't talk").

Wind (Ken Chang), Rain (Lam Suet), Thunder (Michael Chow) and Lightning (Chan Kwok Kwan) arrive on the trail of a King Vampire--an especially nasty one that floats through the air, inhaling blood out of victims eyes and exhaling more inflammatory methane than William Bennett. The four brothers go undercover, signing up as servants for the Jiang family wedding. The greedy Dragon gets a good idea of where Jiang's keeping the family's gold and subcontracts a "zombie wrangler"--a Taoist wizard--to reanimate the wax-covered corpses at Jiang's mansion to attack the old scoundrel ("Just imagine all those bodies jumping around!"). The wizard turns the Jiang family's crypt into what looks like the front row of a Ramones concert, and soon the King Vampire arrives

Alfred Hitchcock commented that an audience would sympathize with even the worst villains as long as they're good at their jobs. The brothers, not villains, certainly are calm professionals who seem to have been looking into the abyss a lot without anything looking back at them. As close as they get to angst is an offhand comment that the average person can't understand what it's like to fight vampires. So director Wellson Chin, working from a script of sorts by Hark (The Bride With White Hair, etc.), sees this through as a fairly light film. Certainly the martial arts action makes American attempts to catch up look arthritic, but the film doesn't offer anything in the line of serious terror. The problem is that the King Vampire's makeup--much like the Aztec mummy of the olden-days Mexican horror films--looks like someone threw a pot of oatmeal at his face and called it a day. This gas-bag vamp doesn't have much personality, even though he possesses vampire powers unseen here before, such as the ability to tunnel through the ground like a gopher of ultimate evil.

Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters (R), directed by Wellson Chin, written by Tsui Hark, photographed by Chan Kwong-hung and Sunny Tsang Tat-Sze and starring Chan Kwok Kwan, Ken Chang, Lam Suet and Michael Chow, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the June 5-11, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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