The Era of Vampires
starring Chan Kwok Kwan, Ken Chang, Suet Lam, Michael Chow Man-Kin
screenplay by Tsui Hark
directed by Wellson Chin
by Walter Chaw An incomprehensible bit of garbage produced and written by legendary Hong Kong filmmaker Tsui Hark, Vampire Hunters juggles at least three plots and drops each of them repeatedly and egregiously. Its lore is confused and its heroes are unremarkable but for the unusual degree to which they're inept and disinteresting. The promise inherent in a chop-socky wuxia opus concerning a quintet of fearless vampire hunters and a cadre of zombies is almost infinite, making the abject failure of the piece something almost awe-inspiring. Though it's tempting to blame director Wellson Chin's propensity to stage fight scenes in unrelieved murk, the real culprit of the piece may be a bad guy who looks and moves a lot like a mannequin on a string. William Castle, eat your heart out.
Opening somewhat promisingly with a chase through a forest ending at the defiled tomb of a great general, the picture establishes lore (zombies become vampires when they eat flesh, zombie bites are treatable, vampire bites aren't) and then presents hopping zombies that couldn't catch anything trying to evade them and a vampire bite that's treatable. Time passes without much in the way of explanation and edits between scenes are squeezed off without anything resembling respect for coherence. Our titular vampire hunters appear to spend three months comatose in the woods before rousing to become domestic servants in the home of a wax-maker and his corpulent son. Plans are hatched with someone called "Zombie Wrangler," there's some bit about a stash of gold, a revelation that being wet makes you invisible to the vampire, and then there's something about a deadly cobra. Or something.
Vampire Hunters is moribund filmmaking that plays a lot like a bunch of outtakes cobbled together with an eye on the old filthy lucre, suggesting nothing more than that the colonial spirit in Hong Kong didn't die with the communist turnover. Most disappointing is Hark franchising his name before the sell-by date has expired on his own filmmaking career, reminding uncomfortably of John Carpenter lending his (admittedly less viable) name to a substandard vampire franchise. Worse, it points to one of the most exciting filmmakers in the world either running out of steam or unable, Krusty the Clown-like, to show any kind of discretion in what his name endorses. Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters is awful by any measure--the only pull-quote it could manage for its staggered North American release is by Kevin Thomas. You can't say you weren't warned. Originally published: June 20, 2003.