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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters (2002)

"Five heroes. A coven of vampires. A lot of bad blood."
- tagline

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: June 15, 2003

Stars: Ken Chang, Michael Chow, Lam Suet, Chan Kwok Kwan
Other Stars: Anya, Yu Rong Guang, Horace Lee Wai Shing, Ji Chun Hua
Director: Wellson Chin

MPAA Rating: R for violence and gore
Run Time: 01h:29m:30s
Release Date: June 17, 2003
UPC: 043396095458
Genre: martial arts


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- B-BB- D

DVD Review

Prolific Hong Kong martial arts/action director Tsui Hark (Black Mask 2, Time and Tide, Double Team) takes writing and production credits on this one (in addition to getting his name as part of the title), and though directing credits are actually given to Wellson Chin (Prince of the Sun), this is really a Hark film through and through. It's a somewhat convoluted story at times, and it is more of an excuse for connecting a loose blend of evil vampires, wax-drenched corpses, booby-trapped gold, occasionally exciting swordplay and plenty of wire-enhanced leaping and spinning. Hark's storyline presents the premise that zombies (apparently a big problem in 19th-century China, at least according to this film) can eventually become vampires, and while one can recover from a zombie bite, a vampire bite will turn that person into a vampire in seven days. Don't worry, it's fuzzy logic, at best.

The story has Ken Chang, Michael Chow, Lam Suet, and Chan Kwok Kwan playing a group of highly trained warriors not only on the trail of some sort of nasty Vampire King, but also on the lookout for their wise old master (Ji Chun Hua) who vanished after a botched battle sequence against the very same vamp during the film's opening moments. The four warriors go by the names Wind, Thunder, Rain and Lightning, and while I was never really certain at any given time who was who (their character names are used very sparingly), it didn't really seem to hamper the narrative at all. The back cover mentions that they can control the elements of their given namesake, though in actuality that never really seems to happen in the film; and it also begs the question that if they are called Wind, Thunder, Rain and Lightning, what do all the other highly trained warriors call themselves? Drizzle? Foggy? Sunny?

During their hunt, Wind, Thunder, Rain and Lightning eventually find themselves in the mysterious estate of the Jiang family, where they are mistaken for cooks sent to help with the big wedding of Master Jiang's (Yu Rong Guang) daughter Sasa (Anya). This is where the film comfortably settles in to a series of predictable wire-aided martial arts sequences, some better than others, along with a bit of unexpected romance and comedy, too. The scene-stealing presence of Sasa's hotheaded psycho brother Dragon Tang (Horace Lee Wai Shing), who is determined to steal Jiang's legendary gold hoard, is a decent distraction during the moments when the big bad Vampire King storyline is on hold.

The downside to all of this potential fun is the actual Vampire King himself, a metal-clawed chap who sort of resembles a shrunken apple with stringy hair. While he does get to perform some cool CG blood-sucking (which he can do from a distance of three or four feet), for the most part he flits around like a bad special effect, dive-bombing our heroes like a crazed piñata whenever Hark feels compelled to remind us that the story is in fact about vampire hunters. The zombie element of the script, something that is pivotal to the whole vampire transformation, is handled much more efficiently, highlighted by a weirdly wonderful scene where a demented zombie wrangler summons a veritable army of hopping (yes, hopping), wax-covered corpses.

If you can bypass the predominant silliness of the Vampire King, Hark and Chin do provide some enjoyable and energetic B-movie marital arts fight sequences, full of the expected fanciful leaping and twirling that are genre requirements these days. Some of the scenes are edited a little harshly and far too close up, and those moments soften the impact of the intended dizzying action; this mostly occurs during the aerial vampire fights, which in hindsight are the weakest of the film's encounters. There are, however, a few moments when the camera pulls back during a good ol' sword-to-sword battle, and all of the jumping, diving and rolling are presented in all their tacky, chopsocky glory.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Columbia TriStar tosses out an average 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on Hark's, I mean Chin's film. The color field here isn't particularly bright, and tends to be pretty dark overall, with most scenes taking place at night or in dimly lit rooms. The print, which is clean and blemish-free, shows off some chunky grain (thanks to the use of a lot of mood-enhancing fog), but I suspect that may be more of a source material issue, and not related to the transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Cantoneseyes


Audio Transfer Review: High fives to Columbia TriStar for including both the original Cantonese audio, in addition to a respectable English dub, both in fairly aggressive Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. While both tracks make good use of discrete rear channel cues (most notable during the big fight scenes) and some decent .LFE thumps, my primary complaint is that neither of the tracks have any perceptible high-end treble. Even though all channels get a workout, this lack of treble tends to flatten the presentation a bit.

A French 2.0 surround track is also provided.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring National Security, Cowboy Bebop!, Time and Tide
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Unfortunately it is slim pickings in the extras department, with the only content being trailers for Hark's remarkable Time and Tide, as well as Cowboy Bebop! and National Security.

The disc is cut into 28 chapters, and includes subtitles in English and French.

Extras Grade: D

 

Final Comments

Hardcore Hong Kong enthusiasts might want to sneak a peek at Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters, as it is an oddly fun bit of B-movie fluff from a well-known genre filmmaker. This isn't the most dazzling martial arts film ever made, but it certainly isn't the worst, either.

The $24.95 list price seems a bit steep for a disc with no extras whatsoever (and an aggressive but flat audio transfer), so you may want to look for this one as a rental first.

 


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