Halloween is coming up, and it’s the perfect season for watching these top “Jiangshi,” or “hopping vampire” movies. If you’ve never seen a hopping vampire movie, you are in for a treat. They are some of the wildest, strangest movies in existence. A large part is due to how unique of a genre it is. These movies usually feature an equal mixture of kung fu, horror, and comedy rolled all into one. While they are labeled “horror,” I don’t think any of these are genuinely supposed to be too scary. As a kung fu fan, I love all the action and stunts featured in these movies. Though I can usually only handle a small amount of HK hijinks, these movies tend to be so fun that the comedy works with everything else. Mix in a unique and ever-evolving vampire mythology and you have the recipe for one of Hong Kong’s most fun and unique genres.
These are some of my favorite picks.
ENCOUNTERS OF THE SPOOKY KIND (1988)
starring Sammo Hung, Wong Ha, Dick Wei, Lam Ching-ying, Wu Ma / directed by Sammo Hung / action by: Sammo Hung Stunt Team
Overall Rating: (4 / 5) Kung Fu Rating: (5 / 5)
Bold Cheung (Hung) is known in his village for his bravery, his adulterous wife’s lover dares Cheung to spend a night in a haunted temple, where he has an evil spirit awakened to murder Cheung. Hijinks ensue as his Taoist priest friend tries to save him. What makes this film great is the same for several Hung hopping vampire movies: incredible action scenes sandwiched between fantastical monsters and bumbling comedic characters. While sometimes the comedy can get grating, especially for Western audiences, these movies are often fun enough to let them slide.
Sammo was often synonymous with jiangshi throughout the 80’s, where he often wrote, directed and/or produced several films in the genre, including a few more on this list.
THE DEAD AND THE DEADLY (1982)
starring Sammo Hung, Wu Ma, Lam Ching-ying / directed by Wu Ma / Action by Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Lam Ching-Ying, Billy Chan / action by: Sammo Hung Stunt Team
Overall Rating: (4 / 5) Kung Fu Rating: (5 / 5)
Fatboy (Hung) is a young kung fu student who’s visited by the ghost of his recently slain friend. Sammo does what he can to help avenge his friend and get into a lot of trouble in the process.
Sammo’s vampire movies always have a bunch of strange rituals and rules, which this movie fortunately has. It’s very similar in vein as Encounters of the Spooky Kind, but still is an original premise. One of the big reason this movie made the list is because of the Sammo-brand levels of action. The fight scenes are epic and hard-hitting, though they don’t really come until the end. My only real complaint is that this movie gets a bit needlessly dark, which is a strangely common trait in Sammo Hung movies. However, the moment doesn’t ruin the movie. Overall, it’s easily one of the best in the genre.
MAGIC COP / MR. VAMPIRE 5 (1990)
starring Lam Ching-ying / directed by Ricky Lau
Overall Rating: (4 / 5) Kung Fu Rating: (4 / 5)
It typical HK fashion, this sequel is completely unconnected to the other Mr. Vampire films, but shares the same core team of stars and director. We are brought into contemporary (er, 1990) Hong Kong, where there is only one cop who knows how to deal with the supernatural happenings. Uncle Feng (Ching-ying) is a veteran Hong Kong cop who is asked to escort the corpse of a niece of his neighbor. Upon further development, we learn her body is being used in a diabolical drug trafficking ring. Only Uncle Feng can combine his expert detective skills with his Taoist alchemy to fight the forces of evil! What I like is that it’s a contemporary spin on a classic tale, and everyone in modern day is just kind of cool with the fact Uncle Feng can do all this holy magic stuff.
Though this is the fifth in the series, in typical Hong Kong fashion the stories are completely unconnected, so you can jump in and out of any one of them and not be lost.
KUNG FU FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1982)
starring Billy Chong / directed by Chiu Lee
Overall Rating: (4 / 5) Kung Fu Rating: (3 / 5)
Chun Sing (Chong) gets visited by his deceased father’s ghost who reveals that he had been murdered. Getting vengeance won’t be easy, as the murderer is protected by an evil priest who can control the dead!
Definitely more in the camp department than the previously mentioned films, KUNG FU FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE is a fun and surprisingly entertaining low-budget flick. Though Billy Chong was mostly in low-budget affairs, he really shows his stuff off across many fights throughout. Definitely a B-movie, but very entertaining.
Mr Vampire (1985)
starring Lam Ching-ying, Ricky Hui, Moon Lee, Chin Siu-ho, Billy Lau / directed by Ricky Lau
Overall Rating: (5 / 5) Kung Fu Rating: (5 / 5)
This was the movie that defined the genre, and is the quintessential hopping vampire movie. Most movies of this genre took influence from this movie in one way or another. It also typecast Lam Ching-ying as Mr. Vampire, whom he would be revered as for the rest of his career, much like Christopher Lee is synonymous with Dracula.
Lam Ching-ying is Master Kau (aka the One-Browed Priest), the local expert in Taoist ritual and burial. When a local businessman needs his father’s body moved, he hires Kau to prepare the delicate move. However, things escalate when Kau realizes his body was not buried properly, and instead has turned into a vampire. With the help of his two bumbling sidekicks, they hope to get the spirit under control.
It has the perfect mix of comedy, kung fu and horror. The fighting is top-notch, and is augmented by the very talented acrobatics of the stunt team. Lam Ching-ying perfectly uses his serious deadpan delivery to balance out the wacky hijinks, and helped define the role and the genre with this hit. Seeing the strange Taoists rituals is one of my favorite parts of these films, and there are plenty of creative moments showcased in this film. If it hasn’t been made clear, of all the movies to watch on this list, make sure you see this one.
What are in your top 5 picks of Hopping Vampire movies? Which do you agree or disagree with? Tweet me at @legendaryweapons or comment below!