THE ULTIMATE VAMPIRE
(Hong Kong 1991)
Original Title: Jiang Shi Zhi Zun
(aka) The Spiritual Family
Directed by Andrew Lau Produced by Wong Ying, Chin Chung Action by Ka Lee, Yuen Miu, Lee Chi Kit
Starring: Lam Ching Ying, Chin Siu Ho, Carrie Ng, Lau Shun, Ronald Wong, Karel Wong, Ku Feng, Joanna Chan, Lee Chi Kit, Yuen Miu, Chow Gam Hoi, Chow Gam Kong
Reviewing: YouTube Release
Genres: Vampire / Horror / Comedy
Rating - 3.5 / 5
Synopsis: Vampire buster, Lam Ching Ying, returns as Master Gao in this vampire-filled horror-comedy. Joining forces with his students, Master Gao sets out to rid their village of restless ghosts, vampires and zombies while dealing with a beautiful female ghost who has befriended his men.
Views: More Mr. Vampire hi-jinks aplenty as the wonderful Lam Ching Ying and Chin Siu Ho share the screen again, only 2 years after the formers self-directed Vampire Vs Vampire – which was a lot of fun. In The Ultimate Vampire, the pair tread familiar territory and are joined by popular Hong Kong actor, Ronald Wong Ban who stars as Wanchai – a poor substitute for the great Ricky Hui. The story tells the tale of Master Gau's (Lam Ching Ying) village being overtaken by vampires and ghosts, after he tries to free Wanchai from the spell of a ghost opera. Working with his clumsy assistants and a few other Taoist priests, Master Gau sets out to round them up and soon finds bother with Uncle Kin, a master of the Thunder Fist who likes to kill the ghosts off with his lightning strikes. At the same time, Charleson (Chin Siu Ho) and Wanchai, who are getting distracted with their new friend (a female ghost called Li), soon come across Uncle Kin's son who is using his abilities to travel in ghost form into girls bedrooms. The trio try to put a stop to his antics, losing his body in the process when a gang of dogs chase them off and pull the body away. In order to help his spirit return to hi physical body, the boys must find his body before dawn – something which they seem to do quite easily – but it has bee badly mutilated by the dogs. Uncle Kin advises Master Gau and his disciples that, in order to save his son, they must go into Coffin Woods in search of the Coffin Mushroom – a fungus that grows under these particular coffins in the forest. The only catch is that they need to get through a small army of vampires in order to get it and save Kin's son. Soon after, a number of the local townsfolk are found murdered and fingers start pointing at Master Gau. In knowing that Kin's son is not himself, the priest sends Charleson and Wanchai out to keep an eye on him which doesn't go as straight-forward as planned. After an attack by Master Gau, Kin's son returns to his dad for a bit of an upgrade made possible by Kin's Thunder Fist. This transforms him into the ultimate vampire and makes him a much stronger, more blood thirsty demon. On a mission to take Master Gau and his disciples down, Kin resurrects a horde of zombies from their graves so they can follow his demon son to the home of the priest and help kill the trio. It all leads to an exciting and action packed finale as Master Gau, Charleson, and Wanchai try to fight off the army of the dead with a little help from the Hell Police – a group of eternal officials who get rid of the undead with one swipe – the ultimate vampire himself, and the enraged Uncle Kin who's lightning attack proves to be a shock for everyone!
Considered a spin-off as such to the original series, The Ultimate Vampire doesn't really offer too much more that we haven't already seen in the abundance of Lam Ching Ying led horror-comedies, but it still manages to entertain enough to keep fans happy. Cinematographer-turned-actor-turned-director (and producer) Andrew Lau Wai Keung does a pretty decent job in what was only his second directorial effort after the entertaining Against All, which starred Danny Lee and Nick Cheung. Of course, he would go on to become one of Hong Kong's most prolific directors with the likes of the Young & Dangerous series, Storm Riders, A Man Called Hero, and the Infernal Affairs trilogy, behind him! Having already lensed (or partly so) many great titles before this, such as Where's Officer Tuba, Armour Of God, Inspector Wears Skirts, City On Fire, As Tears Go By, and Mr. Vampire 2 & 3, Lau continues as DOP on The Ultimate Vampire – joined by Tony Miu King Fai who worked with him on Against All as well as being behind the lens on many great titles like Red Shield, A Chinese Torture Chamber, Dr. Lamb, The Magic Crane – and modern hits such as Flash Point, Naked Soldier, The Warlords, Monkey King, and more. Saying that, there's really nothing spectacular about the photography of The Ultimate Vampire, although I'm sure that my thoughts could change if I were ever to see it on Blu-ray...
Lam Ching Ying does as great a job as always as the priest who takes on ghosts, vampires, and the undead. By this stage of the game, Lam was able to pull-off these roles with his eyes closed having mastered the character previous in Mr. Vampire 1, 2 & 3, Vampire Vs. Vampire (which he also directed), Encounters Of The Spooky Kind 2, Magic Cop, Shy Spirit, and a cameo in Midnight Conjure. Even after this, Lam Ching Ying would continue to appear as the much beloved Taoist priest in a host of titles both in film and television, before dying of liver cancer in 1997. The handsome Chin Siu Ho, who is always a joy to watch, holds back on the action until the finale, but still entertains throughout with his charm and comedy – playing the character of Charleson a little dumber than that of Chow in the original Mr. Vampire. As mentioned, Ronald Wong Ban plays the third party member of the heroes, offering some entertaining qualities while trying to fill some very big shoes worn by the comic genius of Ricky Hui. Of course, Hui would make-up for this by starring alongside Lam Ching Ying and Chin Siu Ho in the following years Mr. Vampire 1992 (aka Chinese Vampire Story) from original director, Ricky Lau. The delightful Carrie Ng plays Li, the ghost lady friend who helps save the gang a few times from the undead, and plants the lips on Lam a few times. Although it would be another year before the world learned of this femme-fatale when Naked Killer got released, Ng had already appeared in many great titles to this point such as Diary Of A Big Man, Gunmen, Return Engagement, Dragon From Russia, and Bloodstained Tradewind. The same year as starring in The Ultimate Vampire, Carrie Ng would also make a splash in Sex & Zen as well as appearing in the fantastic, A Rascals Tale, with Shing Fui On and Sylvia Chang. Martial arts actor Lau Shun, who started in the industry by playing the bad guy in Cynthia Rothrock and Conan Lee's, Prince Of The Sun, stars as Uncle Kin – the man who, if he shook your hand, would make your eyes light up. Although he was relatively new to the game at the start of the 1990s, Shun was very quickly cast in vital roles of many incredible titles from the Swordsman Trilogy to A Chinese Ghost Story 2 & 3, New Dragon Gate Inn, Once Upon A Time In China 1, 3 & 5, and so much more. While he doesn't get a host of fighting scenes here, Shun still gets in on the action – both in the magical and martial arts sense of things and proves to be quite entertaining. Apart from a fun cameo by veteran actor Ku Feng, in a restaurant scene that homages the original film, Kin's demonic son is played by Karol Wong Chi Yeung – a familiar face to many from the late 80s onwards of Hong Kong cinema. Appearing in titles such as Fight back To School, Angel Terminators 2, To be Number One, and Gambling Baron with Max Mok, Wong also starred in the fantastically fun New Kids In Town with co-star, Chin Siu Ho, just the year before. While he often comes across as just a typical Hong Kong bad guy, he still makes the most of his roles and looks like he's having fun as the titular ultimate vampire.
While not amazing by any means and treading too close to remake territory, The Ultimate Vampire offers a few new niches to its main characters and a story that gets a little more exciting around the half-way point. It's an easy watch, but I have to say it doesn't even come close to the entertainment or production values of the original. That said, it's definitely worth a watch and does have some exciting moments that will keep fans of Lam Ching Ying happy!
Overall: Plenty of vampire fun and Lam Ching Ying in his element, The Ultimate Vampire makes for a fun watch and is definitely one of the better spin-offs from the original series!