Though I’m sure there are only approximately 2 people reading this who haven’t seen the original Mr Vampire, we have to set some context before we delve into Eureka’s two disc set of its sequels.

1985’s Mr Vampire (also on Blu-ray from Eureka) stars Lam Ching-Ying (otherwise best known as a Sammo Hung regular, in the likes of The Prodigal Son and Eastern Condors) as a Taoist priest who, along with his students (Ricky Hui and Chin Siu-ho) has to fight off supernatural threats like a ghost that wants to seduce one of the students and the undead grandfather of Ting-Ting (Moon Lee), who they were supposed to rebury, but allowed to turn and escape. It’s great fun, narratively nonsense a lot of the time, but also somewhat rooted in real traditions and Chinese culture (the unique hopping vampires). For my money it earns its reputation as a classic, which brings us to this set.

The Films

Mr Vampire II (Ricky Lau, 1986, ★★)

This film has almost nothing to do with Mr Vampire. The Chinese title actually translates as Vampire Family and, rather than the early 20th century, it’s set in contemporary mid ’80s China. The plot sees Professor Kwok (Chung Fat) and his students (Billy Lau and Ka Lee) discover a family of vampires, frozen in time by the talismans familiar from the first film. Taking them out of the cave they’re found in, the trio plan to sell the bodies, but the students accidentally awaken them, and one is bitten. The doctor he goes to for this bite is one Lam Ching-ying (yes, playing a character who shares his name). He’s also a Taoist master and, along with his daughter (Moon Lee,  in a part more thankless than she had in the first film) and his prospective son in law (Yuen Biao), sets out to destroy the vampires. In the meantime, the child of the vampire family has escaped and is getting into ET like scrapes with another family.

Mr Vampire II (Ricky Lau, 1986 `1

I have no proof of this, but especially given its release just 11 months after the first film, I suspect that an existing script was taken off the shelf and Lam Ching-Ying’s character written in. This might also explain why he first appears almost a full 40 minutes into this 89 minute film, and has perhaps 20 minutes of screentime in total. If anything, the film might have benefited from leaving Lam and his storyline out, as the early scenes are perhaps the most fun here. The cave set opening has a bit of pre-credits Indiana Jones feel (though without the action set piece), and the first ‘fight’ when the students awaken the two adult vampires is a great piece of kung fu inflected slapstick—the sequence where Lau has to swap a talisman between the two vampires who are both advancing on him at the same time, freezing one at a time, is terrific fun.

If the focus fully shifted in the second half, that would be one thing, but bringing in Lam only to under-use him feels like a waste. Yuen Biao has one sequence that has a solid idea, where he has to fight off the vampires. He uses some sedatives he finds in the lab, and the rest of the fight plays out in slow motion (but at 24FPS, with the speed clearly being an on set thing). Technically, it’s great, a real testament to the performers skills. It’s also almost 15 minutes long, and only has that one idea. It gets tired fast.

Mr Vampire II (Ricky Lau, 1986

The same, sadly, is true of the kid vampire storyline. It’s charming enough, but it’s just ET reskinned. On the whole, Mr Vampire II is a rushed mishmash that doesn’t even add up to the sum of its flawed parts.

Mr Vampire III (Ricky Lau, 1987, ★★★★)

This film has almost nothing to do with Mr Vampire. Okay, that’s less true than of the previous ‘sequel’, but still. The Chinese title in this case translates to Mr. Spiritual Fantasy, which is more accurate, as this one doesn’t involve vampires but ghosts and demons of various sorts.

Mr Vampire III (Ricky Lau, 1987,

Lam Ching-Ying returns, this time playing Master Gao, a Taoist priest, and the film is set before the first one, probably mid to late 19th century. The film is toplined, though, by Richard Ng, usually somewhat gormless comic relief as a side character, here he has much more to do and a little more to play as a fraudulent priest who has two ghosts who help him out by possessing homes which he then ‘exorcises’. I do wonder if Peter Jackson had seen this before writing The Frighteners. Ng has great energy here. His slapstick is often very funny, the way his relationship with the ghosts plays out is interesting and the set piece where he’s running around naked but for a modesty pouch, hiding from a deep-fried ghost is…unique, to say the least.

If the second film was obviously a collection of ideas that were likely meant for another project, this grab bag of madness is strung together much more convincingly. Lam and Ng have oppositional energy that plays entertainingly when they’re working together: Lam the cool, collected professional and Ng the manic poseur hoping to muddle through. The set pieces, too, are fantastic. Pauline Yuk-Wan Wong, who played the mother vampire in the second film, appears in a forceful role as the ‘Devil Lady’; the leader of a magical army, which Lam and his assistant (Billy Lau) fight early in the film in a sequence that is easily the action highlight of the series to this point.

Mr Vampire III (Ricky Lau, 1987, 1

There’s not much of a coherent story here, but the devil lady has to be defeated, and that along with some slapstick involving ghosts in jars (some very fun, cheap looking, effects here) is about all there is. Lam Ching-Ying is his usual stoical self, taking on the mayhem with a straight face and speedy kung fu moves, but there’s no real development in his character or relationships to the other characters, rather he provides a static centre for the silliness to spin around. As director, Ricky Lau is clearly enjoying himself a great deal with ghosts being ‘bumped into and out of possessed people, that one extravagantly choreographed action set piece and, so good and so odd it’s worth mentioning twice, the hilarious design of the deep-fried ghost costume.

On the one hand, this is again little more than a chaotic mishmash of ideas, but this time all of those ideas are fun, and Lau and his cast and crew throw everything at the wall, making most of it stick in outrageously fun ways. A silly, silly treat.

Mr Vampire Saga IV (Ricky Lau, 1988, ★½)

This film has absolutely nothing to do with Mr Vampire. Things do not begin promisingly, with the credits conspicuously missing Lam Ching-Ying (who doesn’t appear at all here), and unfolding to music that sounds like it was taken from a video catalogue for 1988’s second cheapest double glazing. There’s a little silly business early on with hopping vampires, but almost the entirety of the first half is given over to bad sitcom level slapstick when a Taoist priest (Anthony Chan) and his student (Chin Kar-lok) move in next to a Buddhist monk (Wu Ma) and his student (Loletta Lee). The students like each other, but the masters engage in constant petty conflicts which play themselves out in tedious and overextended slapstick routines that take up the first 45 minutes of what is only a 94 minute film.

Mr Vampire Saga IV (Ricky Lau, 1988, 1

After that, an entirely different film seems to begin. Chung Fat and his entourage (including Yuen Wah, absolutely humiliating himself as an effeminate stereotype of an assistant) turn up, hauling a royal who has become a vampire and, predictably, escapes from his coffin. This forces Chan and Wu Ma to team up and fight this extremely powerful undead foe. There are a few cool moments in the 15 minutes that constitute the final battle: a couple of occasions for Chin Kar-lok to show off his martial arts skills; a genuinely creepy shot as we realise the vampire is under the house. Sadly, for each of these there are many cheesy gags, like the ongoing one upping of the size of Anthony Chan’s sword, or the godawful effects that inflate his muscles at one point. The jokes are lame, the choreography focused on kid friendly pratfalls, and overall it’s just a dull watch for the most part.

Mr Vampire Saga IV (Ricky Lau, 1988,

Broken pacing, a screenplay of two almost equally rubbish halves that never feel like they cohere into an actual movie, and a complete lack of Lam Ching-Ying’s charisma all conspire to make this an eminently skippable entry is this patchy saga.

Vampire Vs Vampire (Lam Ching Ying, 1989, ★★★½)

This film isn’t even an official sequel to Mr Vampire. That said, it’s probably the one that strikes closest to the spirit of the original. Lam Ching Ying returns, this time behind the camera as well as in front of it, and he does a solid job as director. The narrative is as loose as ever, unfolding more as a series of vignettes about the various scrapes that Lam and his students (Chin Siu-ho, returning from the first film, and David Liu) get into. Among them, they’re involved in finding a water supply for their village, they get drafted in to help a local group of nuns (Maria Cordeo as the Mother Superior and Joanna Chan, Chan Suet-Man and the late Regina Kent as the nuns) fight off a European vampire, and the apprentices are targeted by a seductive ghost. It’s something of a mess, and the bits don’t really join up, but a lot of the set pieces are fun.

Vampire Vs Vampire (Lam Ching Ying, 1989

As director, Lam seldom lets the pace drop. Things kick off immediately, with an opening sequence involving the ghost jars that are a fixture of the series and, for want of a better description, a shit demon that escapes from one of them. This is a good showcase of the film’s effects, which are still clearly low budget, but notably better than in the rest of the series. This goes double for the Western vampire. It’s very interesting to see a Western myth filtered through Chinese adaptation, and while some of the tropes of the film’s Western vampire are familiar (the allergy to sunlight, for instance), it’s fascinating what mix of techniques are used to fight it come the film’s final battle.

Vampire Vs Vampire (Lam Ching Ying, 1

Action is solid throughout, and that final fight is one of the best of the series; what can I say, it’s tough to think of any complaints when Lam Ching Ying is beating up a fully on fire vampire in a pool of quicksand. I’m still not especially fond of the cheeiser bits of comedy, especially the parts with the child vampire that Lam and the students seem to keep as a kind of pet. It’s better than the ET ripoff parts of Mr Vampire II, but the humour still feels pretty local. Overall, this film doesn’t quite have the madcap verve of Mr Vampire III, but it scores with more effective scares than any other entry (the bat sequence in the convent is genuinely skin crawling at times) and an approach that will feel more familiar to fans of the original film.

Hopping Mad The Mr Vampire Sequels (Blu-ray)

The Discs and Extras

Eureka do their usual solid job with the transfers. The films are split across 2 discs, with Mr Vampire II and III on one, and Mr Vampire Saga IV and Vampire Vs Vampire on the other. The prints are mostly clean (with 2K restorations for Mr Vampire II and III, and regular HD restorations for Mr Vampire Saga IV and Vampire Vs Vampire). The only question I have is over one exterior scene in Vampire Vs Vampire, which looks rather too yellow, and whether this is intentional or a sequence that proved too tough to fully restore. As sometimes happens with films of this budget and vintage, the clarity occasionally put the films at a disadvantage; showing the seams between skin and makeup appliance too clearly, or making wires just a little too visible, for instance. If it’s pure picture clarity you’re after though, I find it difficult to imagine that these films have ever looked half this good in the West.

Extras wise, in addition to the expected, with Frank Djeng on and Vampire Vs Vampire and the team of Mike Leeder and Arne Venema tackling and Mr Vampire Saga IV, we have a handful of video extras. The first disc has a short video piece called Taoist cinema, comparing the traditions depicted in the films with the work of a modern taoist priest. In addition to this, there are just under 7 minutes of extended scenes from Mr Vampire II, I don’t know that the film misses any of this material, but it’s good to have it available in the same excellent quality as the film itself. The second disc has a near 17 minute look at other pieces of Chinese pop culture inspired by the same traditions as the Mr Vampire series, from vinyl figures of the hopping vampires to 80s and 90s film inspired clothing. Some of the stuff looks cool, but ultimately it feels mostly like PR for the companies.