I was first introduced to the cinema of Tsui Hark in the late 1980s when my buddy Kelly Greene and I saw the Hong Kong sword and sorcery/fantasy/action/adventure film ZU WARRIORS FROM THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN (1983) sometime in the late 1980s at the long gone but never to be forgotten Dobie Theater. We were both blown away by the over-the-top, wildly choreographed and orchestrated sword fights, martial arts battles and the utterly baroque and bizarre visual style of the film. Did it all make any sense? Hell no. Did we love it? You betcha.
Tsui Hark, who graduated from the University of Texas in 1975 (I enrolled there in 1974 so we were on campus at the same time), began his career as a Hong Kong filmmaker in 1979 with THE BUTTERFLY MURDERS. He's still making films today with his latest production, THE TAKING OF TIGER MOUNTAIN, released this year. In between, he's produced an astonishing body of work as a director, writer and producer of some of the greatest Hong Kong action films ever made. Kelly and I saw Hark's PEKING OPERA BLUES (1986) and his magnum opus ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA (1991), ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA II (1992) and ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA III (1993). What, no ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA WALKS AMONG US?
Hark and fellow Hong Kong filmmakers John Woo and Ringo Lam formed a holy trinity of action directors whose films ranged from modern day shoot-em-ups to sword and sorcery fantasias set in distant worlds and times. These films began to make their way to the U.S. in the late '80s and early '90s and when they landed in Austin, they were screened at either the Dobie Theater or on the UT campus at either Hogg Auditorium or the Texas Union theater.
Kelly and I made a point of seeing as many of these films as we could. We became instant fans of this bold, brash, go-for-broke style of cinema. It was something fresh, new and invigorating and we loved almost every film we saw. I often thought that discovering those Hong Kong films in the late '80s and early '90s was akin to what film fans must have experienced in the '60s when the Italian made Spaghetti Western films hit urban cinemas across the nation.
Tsui Hark himself was on hand in a UT classroom following the screening of one of his films and for the life of me, I cannot remember which one it was (Kelly, when you read this, if you remember the film, help me out). I do recall that Kelly and I attended the screening and then hustled over to the building where Hark was scheduled to hold court. I remember him being a short, slender man who was very gracious and patient with his fans and the multitude of questions and comments we all had to offer.
I found a copy of TSUI HARK'S VAMPIRE HUNTERS in a thrift store the other day for a buck. I hadn't seen a Hong Kong action film in many years and I figured it would be fun to revisit this genre that I found so richly rewarding those many years ago. Besides, the price was right.
Tsui Hark is credited with writing and producing VAMPIRE HUNTERS (released in Hong Kong as THE ERA OF VAMPIRES) while the directing credit goes to Wellson Chin. It's not as good as 100% Hark but it's a serviceable exemplar of the kind of horror/action/comedy film that could only be made in Hong Kong.
Yes, there are vampires in this film, but they're vastly different than the kind found in European and American films. There are also zombies (and a zombie wrangler to boot!). The plot concerns four young warriors and their ancient mentor who devote themselves to battling the undead wherever they find them in 17th century China. There's plenty of sword fights, marital arts battles,and bodies spin through the air courtesy of some good-but-not-great wire work. There are pretty girls, blood and guts and a few laughs here and there. But it's far from the greatness of the early Hark masterpieces. Maybe if the master himself had directed it, VAMPIRE HUNTERS would have been a better film. As it is, it's a fun movie and I enjoyed spending an afternoon with a celluloid friend whose acquaintance I'd missed over the years.
If you're a fan of Hong Kong cinema, check out TSUI HARK'S VAMPIRE HUNTERS. If you're a newcomer, you might want to start with some of the earlier films listed above before watching this one. You'll enjoy it more with some experience and exposure to the wild, wild world of Hong Kong action films under your belt.