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Mr. Vampire – HK Region 3 (IVL) vs UK Region 2 (Hong Kong Legends)
6th August 2005

Mr. Vampire Comparison Review Rating/Certificate: HK Category II
Region: 3
DVD Release Date: 23rd June 2005
Run Time: 97 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Anamorphic: Yes
Colour: Yes
Video Format: NTSC
Disc Type: SSDL
Genre: Horror
Soundtrack: Dolby Digital 2.0 Cantonese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Cantonese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Mandarin, DTS 5.1 Cantonese
Subtitles: English, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese
Extra Features: Interview with Ricky Lau, Photo Gallery and Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Ricky Lau
Starring: Chin Siu-ho, Moon Lee, Lam Ching-ying, Ricky Hui, Billy Lau, Pauline Wong
Related Movies: A Chinese Ghost Story, Moon Warriors, Wing Chun


Mr. Vampire Comparison Review Rating/Certificate: UK 15
Region: 2
DVD Release Date: 22nd April 2002
Run Time: 93 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Anamorphic: Yes
Colour: Yes
Video Format: PAL
Disc Type: SSDL
Genre: Horror
Soundtrack:  Dolby Digital 5.1 Cantonese, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English
Extra Features: Feature Length Commentary from Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan, Interviews, Biographies, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Ricky Lau
Starring: Chin Siu-ho, Moon Lee, Lam Ching-ying, Ricky Hui, Billy Lau, Pauline Wong
Related Movies: A Chinese Ghost Story, Moon Warriors, Wing Chun


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Mr. Vampire Comparison Review

Mr. Vampire holds the distinction of being the first Asian title I reviewed for the site, way back in 2002 (when we were going under the somewhat dubious name of DVDBlokes). The film has remained a firm favourite of mine, so when I was offered the chance to check out this all-new, digitally re-mastered release from Intercontinental Video, how could I resist? In this review I will be comparing the IVL release with the current offering from UK label Hong Kong Legends, which is widely considered to be the best version of the film available on DVD.

Mr. Vampire Comparison Review
HK (Intercontinental Video) Region 3


Mr. Vampire Comparison Review
UK (Hong Kong Legends) Region 2


Film
Mr. Vampire (or Geung si sin sang, the literal translation of which is ‘Mr. Stiff Corpse’) is a tricky film to review, primarily because it’s an extremely bizarre movie (at least to this Western viewer). The basic premise is simple enough—Taoist master Kau (Lam Ching-ying) runs a mortuary with the aide of two incompetent apprentices, Man Choi (Ricky Hui) and Sheng (Chin Siu-ho). As part of his duties Kau is responsible for giving burial advice to his customers, and it is this service that brings him into contact with the millionaire, Mr. Yam. Yam wants to exhume his late father’s corpse so that it might be re-buried in a more suitable plot, which in turn will bring Yam good fortune.

The body is taken to Kau’s for storage until a suitable site for re-burial can be found, but once there it becomes apparent that Yam senior is slowly but surely turning into a vampire! Kau instructs his apprentices to imprison the vampire in his coffin—using the time-honoured combination of ink and chicken blood—but as is the case with most incompetent apprentices, they make a complete pig’s ear of it. The vampire escapes the confines of the mortuary and decides to pay a visit to his son’s house, with predictably messy, not to mention fatal, consequences.
 
When the bumbling Chief of Police can find no logical explanation for Yam junior’s death, he arrests Kau and takes him to jail. This leads to one of the best set pieces in the film, as Yam junior (now a fully fledged vampire himself) wakes up and goes on a rampage of his own. Quick thinking from Sheng saves the day, but unfortunately the original vampire is still at large and attempts to kill both Mr. Yam’s beautiful daughter Ting-ting (Moon Lee) and Man Choi. Kau and Sheng arrive in time to dive the vampire away, but not before Man Choi is himself infected with vampirism!

Mr. Vampire Comparison Review
HK (Intercontinental Video) Region 3


 Mr. Vampire Comparison Review
UK (Hong Kong Legends) Region 2


To make matters worse Sheng is being stalked by an unusually horny ghost, who apparently wants to hump him into the afterlife! Kau must try and save his apprentices from their respective fates, protect Yam’s daughter and track down and kill the vampire that caused all of the trouble in the first place! A Taoist master’s work is never done!

Mr. Vampire combines elements of horror, comedy and martial arts to produce an entertaining movie with something for everyone. Now I’m not a huge fan of the humour found in many Chinese action movies, primarily because it tends to be a little over the top, but thankfully Mr. Vampire doesn’t stray too far into slapstick territory. Some of the verbal humour doesn’t really translate that well though, which is unfortunate, if expected. On the other hand the physical comedy is well done, with the hopping, rigour mortis afflicted vampires stealing the show—especially when around a dozen of them are hopping in unison!

While the violence is fairly tame in comparison to most Hong Kong action flicks, there is at least one scene that might offend. The scene in question involves the on-screen killing of a live snake, so if you’re sensitive about such things it’s worth bearing in mind. The martial arts action isn’t as thick and fast as many Hong Kong action flicks, but what is on display is superbly done. For example, the opening fight sequence, aforementioned jailhouse scene and the climactic battle are all fantastic!

I really enjoyed revisiting Mr. Vampire. The acting is great from the principal cast members, with Lam Ching-ying and Chin Siu-ho both putting in fine performances. Ricky Hui provides the comic relief for most of the runtime, and he goes to great lengths to keep the audience laughing (a bit of cross dressing never hurt anyone). A special mention must also go to Moon Lee, who looks stunning in this film and puts in a nice performance as Yam’s daughter.

Mr. Vampire Comparison Review
HK (Intercontinental Video) Region 3


Mr. Vampire Comparison Review
UK (Hong Kong Legends) Region 2


The ‘special’ effects may be considerably less than that by today’s standards, but it doesn’t hurt the film. After all, it was made in 1985, and the poorly made up, hopping vampires simply add to the camp value of the film. Things can get a little bit absurd at times, such as the obvious use of dummies in certain scenes, but that all adds to the charm and is in keeping with the rest of the movie.

Video


The IVL disc boasts a ‘digitally remastered’ 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, which is almost certainly the best the film has ever looked on DVD. The first thing that struck me about the transfer was the accuracy of the colours, which are extremely vibrant without becoming oversaturated. Contrast is also excellent, while black levels remain solid throughout the many night-time scenes. Happily grain is also kept to a minimum, but sadly it’s not all positive. I found the image a little soft compared to newer releases, and there is still the occasional bit of print damage to be found (although to be fair, it’s fairly infrequent and has more to do with the age and origins of the film than anything else). All-in-all this is a very nice effort.

The region two Hong Kong Legends release of Mr. Vampire features an anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer. When I originally reviewed this disc I was impressed with natural flesh tones and vibrant colours. However, three years later the transfer is somewhat less impressive than the label’s newer releases. Colours simply aren’t as accurate as the IVL disc, and while black levels are fine, of primary concern is the contrast, which is a little high in some scenes. There’s also a fair amount of grain in evidence, especially when compared to the IVL disc. There are a few instances of print damage, but these are actually masked by the grain and the fact that the image isn’t as sharp as even the IVL disc.

There are subtle differences between the framing of both release, but nothing to get too worked up about. The IVL release displays a little more picture information on either side of the transfer, but loses a little on the bottom compared to the HKL disc. As I said, this really is very minimal, and certainly nothing that should spoil your enjoyment of the film.

Mr. Vampire Comparison Review
HK (Intercontinental Video) Region 3


Mr. Vampire Comparison Review
UK (Hong Kong Legends) Region 2


Audio
The IVL release of the film boats a wide selection of audio tracks. Along with Cantonese Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 efforts, the disc features the original Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono Cantonese track for posterity. Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 is also available. However, such a wealth of audio options doesn’t necessarily equate to superior audio quality, but this is not the case here. Both the Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 tracks are very lively, with a surprising amount of surround action for such an old Hong Kong flick. It’s fairly obvious that a lot of new effects have been added into the mix in order to create a more stimulating track, and while this might offend the purists I have to say that I was impressed with the results. Some of the discrete effects add genuine atmosphere to scenes that were previously lacking—just listen to the heartbeats during the prison scene for proof of that. This version of Mr. Vampire also features punchier bass than before, adding menace to the vampires’ ominous hopping. Dialogue also sounds more natural than most Hong Kong flicks of this era, although it’s still very obviously looped. The only truly negative thing I have to say about the tracks is that they feature a somewhat annoying level of background hiss, but I even that became less apparent when I got into the movie.

Thankfully purists are also catered for with the inclusion of the original Mono track, which is very much what one would expect. Virtually all of the dialogue sounds as if it has been looped through gauze, which of course it has (been looped that it, I’m not sure about the gauze), and there’s a lot of distortion in the track. While it’s nice that this track found its way onto the disc, it really is starting to show its age now.

The Hong Kong Legends release of Mr. Vampire features both Cantonese and English Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. The original language track features clear dialogue throughout, but as with most of the Asian films from this era the dialogue doesn’t sound very natural (the whole film sounds as if it’s been badly looped). Surround usage is infrequent and uninspiring, with most of the rear action coming courtesy of the spooky background music (which is admittedly very effective). The sub doesn’t get much of a look in, but it does come to life very briefly during some of the action scenes. However, these moments lack the necessary impact to compete with the IVL effort. All in all this a reasonable track, but it’s not going to test your system and is markedly inferior to the remixed efforts found on the IVL release.

The English dub is worth listening to at least once for comedy value. It may dumb down the original dialogue, but it creates some comedic moments of its own (quite intentionally it would seem). On a couple of occasions the characters break the fourth wall with lines such as ‘That will never happen, this is a low budget film’ and the like. It’s actually quite astounding to hear some of the dialogue substitutions, especially those that relate to the character’s names. For example, Man Choi becomes Malcolm and Sheng becomes Simon! To be honest, the most amusing feature of the English dub is the appalling quality of the voice acting—it really is quite shocking.

Mr. Vampire Comparison Review
HK (Intercontinental Video) Region 3


Mr. Vampire Comparison Review
UK (Hong Kong Legends) Region 2


When it comes to the subtitles, both releases have their pros and cons. On the whole the IVL disc seems to offer the more faithful translation, but for some inexplicable reason many of the characters’ names are Westernised. For example, Man Choi is known as ‘Dan’, Sheng is called ‘Harry’ and Shiu Yu is ‘Jade’. Ting-ting is also referred to simply as ‘Ting’ and Kau is ‘Ko’.  Conversely, the HKL disc provides accurate translations for the names, but some unforgivably loose translations during key dialogue sequences. There are a few instances where ‘dubtitles’ are used—most notably one in which a character refers to wanting a Coke instead of a coffee—and this is something that I found very distracting. They also completely neglect to translate the lyrics to a song around twenty-five minutes into the film (the translation is present on the IVL disc). Although neither set of subs is perfect, if pushed I’d probably have to choose the IVL subs over the HKL, but those annoying Westernised names made it a tough one to call.

Extras


Unfortunately, IVL’s region three release is a bit of a damp squib when it comes to bonus material. The only feature of any worth is an interview with director Ricky Lau, which is broken into three distinct sections dealing with the film, directing and the actors. Unfortunately this isn’t the most exciting interview I’ve ever seen, and matters are not helped by broken English of the truly dreadful subtitles. There’s a slightly odd moment when Ricky appears to shed a (literal) tear over the prospect of this, his first feature film, being a failure, but then he seems to remember that it was a box-office success and perks up again… Other than the interview, the IVL disc really has nothing substantial to offer. We are presented with both the original, lengthy theatrical trailer and a new, more effective re-edited trailer, plus a couple of still galleries—hardly anything to write home about. There are a few more trailers for films such as King of Beggars, A Chinese Ghost Story II and Security Unlimited, but these don’t relate to the main feature and lack subtitles of any description.

This is where the Hong Kong Legends release gets a chance to claw some points back. The jewel in the crown of the region two supplemental material is undoubtedly the feature length commentary by Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan. For once the term ‘feature length’ is no exaggeration, as Logan talks incessantly throughout the proceedings. Seriously, the guy must have shares in Strepsils. The track is jam-packed with extremely interesting and entertaining details on every facet of the production, and it really enhanced my viewing experience. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that this is one of Bey Logan’s finest commentaries for Hong Kong Legends.

Mr. Vampire Comparison Review
HK (Intercontinental Video) Region 3


Mr. Vampire Comparison Review
UK (Hong Kong Legends) Region 2


Next up we have a ten minute tribute to the late, great Lam Ching-ying, featuring interviews with Sammo Hung and Chin Siu-ho, as well as clips from some of Lam Ching-ying’s movies. The featurette gives a little insight into Lam Ching-ying’s character and his performance in Mr. Vampire, but nothing too in-depth. Also mentioned is an encounter between Lam and Bruce Lee, in which Lee demonstrated his power to the then stuntman. Also in this section is a biography, which details Lam Ching-ying’s life from the early years up until his untimely death.

Now we come to the trailers, of which there are two: the UK promotional trailer and the original theatrical trailer (these are actually the same as the trailers found on the IVL release). The UK trailer is fairly short, but manages to make the film look far more action packed than it actually is. The original trailer is around four minutes in length, but seems much longer. You almost feel like you’ve seen half the film after watching this one (as is the case with a lot of Hong Kong movie trailers)!

Next we have an interview gallery, which features both Chin Siu-ho and Moon Lee. Both interviews are conducted in Chinese with compulsory English subtitles. The interviews give a fair bit of insight into both actors’ careers and their experiences working on Mr. Vampire, but I honestly can’t say I’d watch them more than once or twice (except to catch a glimpse of Moon Lee, who’s still pretty foxy).

Finally we have a ‘Coming Attractions’ section, featuring disc information and trailers for two of Hong Kong Legend’s forthcoming releases: Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain and The Scorpion King’. Obviously both of these titles have been out for quite some time now, as this Hong Kong Legends disc was originally released in 2002.

When originally released, Mr. Vampire advertised a featurette entitled ‘The Vampire’s Lair’. Unfortunately the featurette never materialised, which is a real pity when you consider the relatively bland selection of extras on offer. That said, the commentary is outstanding and definitely bumps up the score a notch or two.

Mr. Vampire Comparison Review
HK (Intercontinental Video) Region 3


Mr. Vampire Comparison Review
UK (Hong Kong Legends) Region 2


Overall
Well this is a tough one to call. On one hand the Intercontinental Video release clearly has the edge in terms of audio-visual quality, but on the other Hong Kong Legends’ region two disc offers superior supplemental material. I guess it all comes down to individual preference, so I’m going to take the coward’s way out and declare a draw. I’m usually the sort of person to go for audio-visual quality over extras every time, but Bey Logan’s commentaries add so much to the experience of watching Hong Kong cinema that it’s hard to discount the Hong Kong Legends effort. Hopefully there is enough information in the comparison to enable the casual viewer to make an informed choice, but big-time Mr. Vampire fans should definitely own both!

Finally, it’s probably worth me pointing out that the IVL disc is actually coded for all regions, rather than region three only. This might sway some of you, it might not…

Hong Kong Region 3
UK Region 2
Film:77
Video:76
Audio:75
Extras:37
Overall:77


For more information about the various DVD release of Mr. Vampire, why not head on over to our friends at DVDCompare.net?

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