Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mr Vampire Series Review

In the last little while I’ve been faced with some grown-up decisions to make. Pros and cons lists were made, people were considered, or not. It’s more difficult now that I have to consider more than just myself in my future. I also hit a wall with my parents’ truck. It was a small wall that will be fine when I get around to fixing it. With all this seriousness, naturally, I said “Fuck it” and decided to watch Chinese Comedy-Horror vampire films from the 80’s. Naturally. Like an adult.

In 1998 I saw part of an old Asian vampire film on TV. It was subtitled, in colour. The vampires in it had red nails, and sort of "hopped" about, and they went up to people and repeatedly stabbed them with their nails. To protect themselves, the humans wore bullet proof vests. It's all I can really remember. I don't think it was supposed to be humorous, but it might have been, I was just a kid when I saw it. I really wanted to see this film, but I couldn’t find it. Someone pointed me in the direction of the Mr Vampire series. There are 5 films made between 1986 and 1992: Mr Vampire I, Mr Vampire II, Mr Vampire III, Mr Vampire IV, and New Mr Vampire 1992. The first one and the last one are the only ones considered to be direct sequels, despite the lead actor (Lam Ching-ying) playing the “unibrow” character in 1-3 and 5.   

I don’t think what I saw was in any of these films, but it is pretty close. No bullet proof vests. But there are hopping vampires stabbing people with their nails. I actually enjoyed the series, so I kept watching. The fighting was always amusing, even when the actual story was less than stellar.  

This series is about the geung si, Chinese for "hopping" vampire or zombie, though the dubs and subs I had only used the term vampire, as far as I can recall. I didn’t even know that hopping vampires was a thing, but it is, and it is awesome. Like a zombie they hold their hands out in front of them. Like a stiff rabbit they hop. Awesome. You can learn more about geung si from this Wikipedia article. In this universe the vampires can smell your breath, so if you hold it in, they can’t find you. Also, you can cover yourself in oil and they won’t be able to see you. 

I liked the first film most. Not that I did not enjoy the sequels; I am glad I watched the sequels, but the first is my favourite, followed closely by the last.  

Mr Vampire I (1985)

Master Kau-Note: Grey Hair

This film is about Master Kau, a unibrowed Taoist priest specializing in supernatural arts, and his two bumbling disciples Man-choi and Chau-sang (renamed Dan and Harry in the sub and dub I watched...seriously). Master Kau is asked to rebury a rich man on behalf of their relatives but they discover that he is a vampire. While they are trying to stop it, Man-choi is infected by the vampire virus and Chau-sang falls in love with a ghost woman, so Master Kau has to do pretty much everything.



The shop keeper tells her nephew (Chau-sang) that a prostitute from across the street is going to come in to buy makeup, and to be nice. Of course, Ting-Ting, who is the daughter of the wealthy man who has asked Master Kau for the reburial, comes in, who is definitely not a prostitute, but an actress. Hilarity ensures.  
You can see it here on Youtube, from the start to about 2:30. It’s the dub version, but it has better quality than the others on Youtube.  

Mr Vampire II (1986)

This one is about a vampire family (mother, father, and small boy) that is accidentally let loose in the city. The little boy is separated from his family and stays with a human girl and boy who try to hide him from their father. Much of the humour didn’t do it for me in this one. Lam Ching-ying, who played Master Kau in the previous film, is here as the owner of a medicine store. No disciples, and his daughter Gigi and his prospective son-in-law are flat characters. It was an ok film. I liked the design of the vampire family, and I hated the human family. Sorry pudgy kids, I just couldn’t care less if the vampire boy ate you.

His "Qualifications" to be dealing with the vampires.

Mr Vampire III (1987)

The Chinese name for this film is the Mr Spiritual Fantasy (various translations are available for this, this is the one I saw most often). It makes more sense, as Mr Vampire 3 doesn’t have vampires in it! No, all ghosts and uh...evil Taoists?

Uncle Ming is a Taoist who claims he can exorcise evil spirits from wealthy people. The start of the film shows him trying to con a family by removing two ghosts, however, these two ghosts are his friends Big Pao and Small Pao (depending on which subs you are watching). Anyway, these ghosts pretend to be exorcised so Uncle Ming can get money.

Big Pao and Little Pao
The two ghosts are the only mildly interesting characters in this film, though I did notice that they were cast in blue light so we can see that they are ghosts, but sometimes the blue lighting wasn’t really visible. I wonder if that was intentional or just some mistakes, because sometimes they had normal human colouring. The other characters were not particularly memorable; I will even go so far as to say that the unibrow Lam Ching-ying character isn’t really memorable either. The antagonist is an evil Taoist Lady who they eventually defeat. Yay. 

Mr Vampire IV (1988)

The version I found was actually in good quality, unlike the last two. This one is about the Four-eyed Taoist and his Buddhist monk neighbour Master Yat-yau. Most of the hilarity stems from the relationship these two have.

Just don’t’s taboo
The Four-eyed Taoist, from the first Mr Vampire returns, but maybe only in spirit? He’s played by the same actor (Anthony Chan). In the first one he’s Priest Four Eyes. It might be the same way as Lam Ching-ying playing the “unibrow” main leads in the first, second, third, and fifth movies, but in the second and third films he is actually a different character. Not too sure but the Priest Four Eyes and the Four-eyed Taoist seem to do the same job, transporting vampires for proper burials (though in the fourth film it’s not explained why he is transporting the vampires).

Bringing the vampires...somewhere?

And a fox spirit tries to seduce him....except this is the late 80’s so we get this sexy furry:

Oh yeah sexy lady...
Anyway, there’s a character who is an obvious homosexual stereotype. I just wonder if we could get away with such a character now?

He doesn't want to suck your err...well, he'd rather just kiss you
until he gets to know you better.
A child prince is transporting a vampire with a convoy, passing the main characters. Why would a prince be transporting something that will potentially try to eat him? Who knows. But it goes without saying that the vampire gets out of the coffin and attacks the neighbours and they have to defeat it, along with all the other vampires it just turned.  

Mr Vampire 1992 (V, or New Mr Vampire)

Master Kau is back!...with black hair but whatever yay?

Master Kau with black's magic don't question it.

The disciples are here too. Yay! This story is a little weird. It’s about aborted fetuses and reincarnation. You see, if a soul is continuously aborted before it can be born, it turns into an “unholy baby”. They’re evil, that’s all you really need to know about that. An unholy baby has put itself (?) into the womb of Kau’s childhood sweet heart, Lin to be reborn in all its evilness, and her maid is there to make sure that it happens. Lin’s husband has also been bitten by a vampire and Kau has to go there to save him. Also, Kwan-yue (called Birdie in my sub), is in love with Kau and wants him badly. Desperately.  She goes so far as to tie him to the bed and have Man-choi and Chau-sang spray her through the window with water to make her clothes cling to her. Awkward.

For the scene that I recall as a child, I thought that it might be this:

Gettin' stabbed, yo.

But the more I think about it, I’m certain that it isn’t. There was a boy protecting a girl from getting stabbed, but he had a bullet proof vest and at one point he was on the floor. This is the only time this happens and they are standing up.   

There is the undertones of “Don’t abort fetuses because this is what happens: YOU MAKE EVIL SPIRITS THAT TRY TO BE REBORN WHO WE ASSUME WILL DO EVILNESS.” But you know, whatever. Also, there’s a scene early on with a small child peeing on Man-choi, and because of the different indecency laws, you see it. Might freak people out.   

I didn’t have a good-quality version to watch, but there is a beautiful scene with Birdie and Lin’s sister in the woods. A red-clad procession and a white-clad procession come towards them. It’s too bad I don’t have better quality pictures, but they really are pretty.

Overall, I liked the series, but the first and last might be the only ones worth checking out. But if you’re bored they’re all on Youtube with varying levels of quality.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Hunger Games Film (Mild Spoilers)

Film of The Hunger Games

It was last week that I went with my sister to see The Hunger Games.  Like the book review, I don’t want to blog about what everyone else is saying. Except maybe on one issue...

The camera work. Dear Lord, seriously, shaky camera much? This has been dragged through the dirt enough. I noticed that sometimes the camera was ridiculously out of focus. During the scene when they get on the train, the camera panned, out of focus, to a wall (or a door frame) and held there for about two or three seconds. Uh, why? I noticed, along with the other adults who were with me. My sister and her friend didn't notice though.  

I found Katniss, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who also played Mystique in X-Men: First Class, a fantastic actor. However, I think that because she doesn’t have a terribly defined face around her chin, there were some shots were she looked like a dumpy blob. Don’t get me wrong, she’s way prettier than me, but for her kind of face the camera needs to be aware of the angles they are getting from her. I recently re-watched X-Men: First Class and I didn’t have issues with her in that, probably because they were careful with how they shot her. My only gripe about the character of Katniss is that I saw her as a stronger character. On the train she was so hard and determined, but in the film she is more scared and vulnerable. Not something against the actress, it was definitely the direction.

My only other gripe is the soundtrack. It was just so uninspiring to me. Some people have been raving about it but to be honest, nothing stuck with me.

The moment when Katniss volunteers for her sister was so heartwretching. It's ranks high in my list of emotional scenes. Rue was excessive sad too, but it still doesn't top Katniss taking her sister's place as tribute. 

"I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute."

I also adore the scenes of the three finger kisses. The act of rebellion stirs a terrible fire within me. I only found the one scene where Katniss does it to screen cap it.

The actors who played Gale and Peeta didn’t seem right to me. They white-washed Katniss and the rest of District 12, so it isn’t surprising that Gale is pale too. I know that without Katniss’s flashbacks, it’s hard to give more character to Gale. For people who haven’t read the books, why should they really care about Gale and how he sees Katniss and Peeta kiss on the screen? The actor who played Peeta, to me, wasn’t the right fit. Peeta should have broad shoulders and big arms. This guy is just too tiny. Sorry Peeta, but it’s true. And the film made him seem like such a useless boob too.

I liked how they portrayed Effie Trinket and Caesar Flickerman though. I didn’t picture Effie that done up, but you know, in the film she fits in with the Capitol. I thought Caesar was spot on.

Effie Trinket (She just loves that part)

Caesar Flickerman

Overall the film was great. They didn’t mess about with the story, thus far. It’s how it is supposed to be. I knew that they were going to use text at the beginning of the film though; there is just too much for the film to cover about the history and setting of Panem. For me I don’t mind, but I’ve heard some negative reaction to having some text. And to be honest I bet those people don’t read books. “Ah, reading! The text, it burns! IT BURNS!!” District 12 wasn’t in the real squalor that the book describes though. I feel that the whole, District 12 is a hole that no one wants to be apart of/abandon all hope all ye who enter here kind of  place wasn’t as prominent as it was supposed to be. When Katniss tells Gale to make sure that her family doesn't starve, it just lacks the impact. Overall, it was great, and we’re going to see the next one for my sister’s birthday in November.

District 12

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Hunger Games Trilogy-Spoilers Ahead!

The Hunger Games Trilogy
Yes, I’m going to jump on the bandwagon and write about The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. With the first movie out in theaters now, everyone is reading and blogging about the books. I’m going to try to steer away from topics that have been beaten, stabbed, and set on fire to death. What I’m going to talk about is a little personal experience and force my opinion on the internet. 

My sister lent me her books, none of which are actually hers. The first one, The Hunger Games, is borrowed from my cousin. Fine. But when I opened to the first page behind the hardcover, written in pen is “Age 14+” in black pen. In adult handwriting. My cousin is a teenager. Where did she get this book and who wrote this? I can’t contact her for a while, but when I do, I’ll ask.

Something that I have noticed is people groaning that either a) adults should not be reading The Hunger Games or b) that The Hunger Games is inappropriate for young people/teens to read. Well then, the question remains: who the hell should be reading these books? Here’s the answer: everyone.    

Elaboration on point A is unnecessary, as I can write a whole post on people should mind their own fucking business and let other people read whatever they want. A rant on this topic is warranted, as I find people like to poke their noses into all areas of others people’s business. So, side note: stay out of other people’s business, damnit.

But what I really want to write about today is The Hunger Games. Point B, at the core, is much more involved. I’m going to write about why teens should read these books.

The argument against these books that I hear most is that they contain violent imagery and violent concepts. The actual Hunger Games is a game/reality television show set up by the government as a means of suppressing future rebellions. Children aged 12 to 18 are put into a draw, and one female and one male from each District have to enter an arena and fight to the death. Only one comes out as the victor. Yes, violent indeed. My sister, let’s call her Lil’ Bunny, is 12 (below the “Age 14+”). She’s afraid of everything. Seriously. You can’t even watch the show Cops around her because it makes her think criminals are out to get her. Did this book, with all the killings freak her out? She says no. She says that she hates the thought of Clove’s head after Thresh puts that fatal dent into her head with a rock. The image of the dent preoccupies her, and she wonders how the movie will portray the dent (we are going next Saturday).

All people are different, though. Will this freak out some readers? Of course. But some adults read “adult” books and are freaked out or insulted, etc by the slightest things too (I kind of want to tell them to grow a pair and stop reading instead of complaining about the damaging effects of violent imagery or opposing viewpoints, but who would be around to argue with me if I did that?). The story is intriguing and you genuinely want to continue reading. With this kind of story, you know that 23 of the 24 contestants should die, and while the protagonist is up for being murdered in the arena, it is pretty obvious that she won’t die. It comes down to some complicated emotions and concepts that readers are faced underneath the violence of the Games.    

Lil’ Bunny and I talk extensively about the dystopia of Panem, and what it means to be oppressed, the politics involved, and what it means to stand up and rebel (and I speak ad nauseum about V for Vendetta all the time). How the government gives its people “bread and circuses” (food and entertainment) in exchange for their right to participate in the government. It is the government of Panem that has decided to oppress their people. They also reap all the goods from the Districts and give luxurious lives to those who live in the Capitol with those goods. The Games are in place not only to quell dissent among the poorer Districts, but as entertainment. People say “but dear God that’s disgusting! Who can watch children murder each other?” Then you get into issues of desensitization, especially those who live in the Capitol  and the richer districts. They have grown up with these games, which are mandatory to watch, and are celebrated like no holiday we have. The richer Districts have Careers-people who train from a young age to compete because they want to win for the glory-and the poorer Districts...they face starvation, everyday. If you win, you get money, a house, and your district is rewarded with grain and oil for a year. Not that you have a choice to decline, though someone might volunteer to take their place, which is what Katniss does for Prim.

The moral issues in these books are prominent, especially in the last book, Mockingjay. In real life we have to make moral judgements all the time. Some people epically fail in the moral development area. We might hate them for their disgusting behaviour, but that is also a moral choice (forgiveness or revenge or eternal hate?). Focusing on Mockingjay, the morality of the characters really come to light. As Peeta has gone insane and is trying to kill Katniss every couple of hours, she has to decide if she can, and should kill Peeta. Katniss is being used by Coin, leader of District 13, for her own personal gain. She resents Coin but Katniss uses the opportunity to aid in the rebellion, though she is hell bent on killing President Snow. In the Games, you will probably have to kill in order to survive, and quite possibly you will have kill someone you know from your District. One moral dilemma is obvious even to younger readers: Katniss is torn between Peeta and Gale, and she lets both love her without rejecting or accepting either one. Morally, this is a terrible thing to do to two people, yet it is understandable why she does it. In the first book, she probably will not survive the Games and she doesn’t want to marry and have children in a Panem that reaps its children for the Hunger Games. In the second book, she has to go back into the arena. In the last book...well, I can’t say I’m so impressed by Katniss. Hey, Katniss, can you maybe not kiss both men and string them along? Although, she does admit that she isn’t the most adorable person in the world, and her negative characteristics is what keeps her from being a flat character like Bella Swan.  

One thing my sister and I spoke about is Katniss’s final decision to marry Peeta and reject Gale. Not only does she reject Gale, it seems to me like he never comes back. I’ve thought about this, and I think Katniss would have been better with Gale if she could come to terms with Prim’s death. Prim dies trying to tend to the wounded children in the Capitol-a scene in the book that had me choked up (don’t judge me!). Silver parachutes descend from the sky from a hovercraft-parachutes usually have relief items of some kind-and they exploded, killing or wounding the children who had them. Once the medics came, including Prim, they exploded again, killing the people trying to save them. This kills Prim and sets Katniss on fire as she was trying to run to Prim. What does this have to do with Gale? Gale was working with someone else on weapons that are based on hunting strategies, namely, to trap or kill one animal to attract the real prize in a second trap. What complicates this further is that Katniss does not know if the Capital ordered the parachutes, or if the rebels did it “for the greater good” and sacrificed some lives. While she believes that she will never know who set the parachutes (though she doesn’t actually try), she believes that Gale at least contributed to Prim’s death because he designed the strategy. That’s like blaming all gun related deaths on the person who invented guns! Morally, Gale is alright with sacrificing some people to get the job done. Should she be angry with Gale? Obviously I don’t think she should be blaming him for her sister’s death.      

In conclusion, I think the whole “OMG what a deplorable, violent concept! Shield our children/young people!” is true, to an extent. Yes, the concept is violent. As a society should we shield our children/teens against everything? I don’t think so, and these books are written to not be splatter porn. They certainly do not glorify killing people. In fact, you read more about how the Games has emotionally and mentally damaged Katniss and other victors. Reading these books can make young people think about oppressive governments and moral choices. (Hell, they can make adults think about these things too.) Critical thinking is always a good thing that should be encouraged, not stifled.        

The Film
The only preconception that I have is that Katniss has been whitewashed. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what race a character and their film version actor are. Sometimes, like in this case, it does matter. Katniss is “olive skinned” with dark hair and eyes-she looks like everyone else in her District, District 12. Her mother and sister, Prim, are fair hair and light skinned. While Katniss provides for them, there is still an obvious element of “otherness” to Katniss that I believe is vital to the story. She is not like her (remaining) family in the way that she can hunt and provide and in the way that she looks. Katniss is also not like Prim, who is a sweet girl who matures into a calm figure of steady wisdom. Katniss is the opposite in looks and character.

Battle Royale
I read a while ago that a Japanese film called Battle Royale is extremely similar, with being even more violent (yay!). I then realized that I actually have this movie. A review of this will come shortly, as I love me some Japanese horror film.

Other Things-Finnick Odair
Lots of people have criticised Collins for writing poor male leads, a sentiment I do not particularly agree with. But I think the best written character, for me, is Finnick Odair. Initially he is a ridiculously handsome young man from District 4, which specializes in fishing, and who is adored by everyone. Now 24 years old, he is brought back into the Hunger Games and becomes a rebel. It is in Mockingjay that his character really shines because of his brokenness. He is worried because his love, Annie Cresta, another winner of a previous Game who went insane after, has been captured by the Capitol. Additionally, he and other victors are used as prostitutes in the Capitol. It sheds a terrible truth to his beauty, and his affection to Annie is absolutely beautiful. Even though she is mad and can barely function sometimes, he loves her. When she is still captive, the image of him wondering around in a hospital gown, tying knots in a length of rope, is probably the most vivid in my mind. He is funny, striking a seductive pose in his underwear, offering sugar to Katniss, and brave, fighting the muttations even though the odds of surviving are against him.