Mr. Vampire

A few years ago Esquire magazine sent a reporter to one of the biggest Christianity conventions in the world in an attempt to discover just what the Catholics and the Mormons and the Christian Scientists and the Prosperity Gospelers and the Southern Baptists all had in common besides the fact that they self-identified as "Christians." And the answer was basically nothing: everyone seemed to agree that once upon a time there was a being named Jesus and that he was pretty big-hearted and swell, but everything past that was pretty contentious. (You'll notice that I said "being" and not "man"; Christians can't even agree on what type of thing this Christ fellow was.)

About halfway through Mr. Vampire I started to wish that I could send that same reporter to a world vampire convention. (Also, that world vampire conventions were a thing.) You see, Mr. Vampire is a 1985 horror-slapstick film and it has some peculiar ideas about what a "vampire" is. For example, the vampires in Mr. Vampire don't fly, they hop. (That's right: hop, like they were Easter bunnies.) And they don't seem to be vulnerable to crosses, but if you stick an incantation that was written in chicken blood and ink on their foreheads they become paralyzed. And they aren't allergic to garlic but if they step on sticky rice their feet turn black. (They are cool with regular rice, though.) Also, they kind of know kung fu and they might cohabitate with angry gorillas? 

Now, if Mr. Vampire were an American film I would write its inventions off as mere wackiness. But it isn't an an American film - it was made in Hong Kong. As such I have to assume that many of its more off the wall aspects are drawn directly from Chinese folklore, a subject I know next to nothing about. Thus my fantasy about the worldwide vampire convention: I would love to be a fly on the wall while some Bram Stoker-ites were arguing with some Mr. Vampire-ites about whether the undead live in castles or in gorilla-filled caves. (And also while everyone argued with Twi-Hards about why Twilight is dumb.)

Of course, I could be wrong about whether Mr. Vampire is an accurate representation of Chinese folklore. Myths about monsters tend to be full of dark, nightmarish details, but Mr. Vampire is thoroughly silly. For example, the main bloodsucker tracks his prey by smelling their breath... and when the heroes figure that out they stuff his nostrils with Q-tips, thus rendering him more or less blind. And the breathing-related shenanigans don't stop there: they also fool him by redirecting their breath using a didgeridoo-looking tube, causing him to overshoot their actual position by several feet. The whole "you can defeat the undead using a few properly placed Q-tips" thing has to be idiosyncratic to this particular movie; I just can't imagine that being handed down from father to son like sacred wisdom.

Don't get me wrong: the vampires in this movie still have a lot in common with the vampires most Americans know and love. They are undead. They have fangs. They are more powerful at night. They sleep in coffins. They cuddle with wet rats during their daily naps. They are next door neighbors with sex-ghosts. Okay, that last one is pretty Mr. Vampire specific - but you have to admit that was a pretty good list until we hit the sex-ghosts.

All joking aside, comparing Chinese vampires to European vampires gives you some legitimately fascinating insights into both cultures. At first I thought the scene where the vampire burns its foot on the sticky rice was really funny - but after I thought about it for awhile I realized that a sticky rice allergy isn't any sillier than a garlic allergy. After all, these are creatures that are so powerful that they can defeat death - how could they possibly be humbled by a spice or a side dish? The fact that both our cultures believe that everyday edibles have magical powers strong enough to tame the undead speaks to something deep about the way the human mind works - namely, that we are all capable of buying into OCD bullshit if we learn it at an early enough age. 

So, yes, it is easy to laugh at Mr. Vampire's oddness, but is it any odder than any other vampire film? I don't know why these vampires get around by hopping - that seems awfully hard on the knees, especially since their fleshy ligaments have probably rotted away  - but then again, I also don't know why European vampires have to be invited into your home before they can enter. (After all, they aren't polite in any other fashion.) The European vampire tradition is fairly schizophrenic since it sometimes depicts them as mindless bloodthirsty brutes and other times it depicts them as erudite aristocratic pick-up artists - surely there's some room on that spectrum for a kung-fu vampire with weak nostrils.

The more I think about it the more I like the idea of a world vampire convention. After all, vampire stories run the gamut from Anne Rice style erotic fiction to mockumentaries like  What We Do in the Shadows. There's no real common ground between True Blood's incessant sexiness and Sesame Street's Count Von Count - except for the fact that it all involves fangs. I would love to overhear all of the conversations where vampire obsessives tried (and probably failed) to hash out the differences between those different folklore strains.

...Well, actually, I'd love to read about them; while I'm sure those talks would be fascinating, they would probably also be insufferable. But that's why they make magazines, right? I mean, I would never go to a religion convention but that Esquire article was fascinating. So get to it, world: organize the gothiest get-together of all time and then make some poor reporter cover it. He'll probably hate it a lot, but the rest of us could really learn something.

Winner: Me

Mr. Vampire on IMDB