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CHI-SUCKING BASTARDS OF THE FAR EAST
(A CineManiac's Guide To Jiangshi Cinema)
By: Mickael
Egads, man! It’s been a long time since I’ve been available to write anything! This won’t matter to you, but real life has really gotten in the way lately-- from buying a house to dealing with a death in the family to searching for a new day job (while still working full-time), my life has been in a constant state of upheaval for several months.

I think that I now fully understand why so many of the popular blogs and podcasts are run by spoiled trust fund hipsters: it’s because they’re the only ones who can actually sit at home all fucking day and generate content. Us “blue collar” types have to squeeze this extra work into our free time which, as I transition into my mid-30s, is dwindling severely. Nobody’s asking me to create this site (and it sure as shit isn’t paying me anything), this is just something I do because I love it. I love movies. The weirder, the better. And so what better way is there for me to resurrect this site from the brink of death than with a piece on vampires? Specifically, the weirdest vampires you’ve ever seen:
Oscar-worthy performances from Robo Vampire (1988)
Oscar-worthy performances from Robo Vampire (1988)
Vampires have been portrayed in a wide variety of ways over the the last 200 years, starting with Polidori’s short “The Vampyre” & Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, where vampires are portrayed as being wealthy aristocrats who prey upon members of high society. They’ve also been portrayed as brutal, barely-human wild west outlaws in films like Near Dark and From Dusk Till Dawn. In the Underworld series, they’re eurotrash stereotypes clad all in leather, and in the Twilight books they’re sparkling little pansies in a state of arrested development. Vampirism has been treated as a supernatural curse, as an incurable disease, and as essentially little more than a fetish.
Do I make you horny, baby? from The Vampire Combat (2001)
Do I make you horny, baby? from The Vampire Combat (2001)
Everyone has their favorite vampire archetype, the one that they feel represents “legitimate” vampires. For some, it’s the nearly indestructible monsters from 30 Days Of Night, for others it’s the foppish blood-lovers from Interview With The Vampire. For people who love all vampire tropes and types, a midnight viewing of What We Do In The Shadows fulfills their every desire. But today, we’re taking you far, FAR away from Transylvania. We’re going to sink our teeth into the legends of the “Jiangshi”, also known as “Geung Si”, but more commonly referred to as “Chinese Hopping Vampires”!!

Vampires have long been a mainstay of Hong Kong cinema. Beginning with Midnight Vampire in 1936, the earliest vampire movies from Asia were essentially mimicking the Dracula-style bloodsuckers of Western films and folklore. In the 1970s, films like 8 Masters (1977) and Spiritual Boxer II (1979) began introducing vampires into the extremely popular kung fu genre, which finally sparked the inspiration to borrow more from Chinese folklore for the basis of their undead antagonists. Kung Fu film legend Sammo Hung is at the forefront of this creative surge, with his movie Spooky Encounters (1980) being the first to truly blend martial arts action with over-the-top comedy and supernatural villains. This recipe would be further improved upon years later with the phenomenal Mr. Vampire (1985).
Gang of hopping vampires from Mr. Vampire (1985)
Gang of hopping vampires from Mr. Vampire (1985)
If you’ve ever seen a Jiangshi flick, you’ve probably laughed uproariously at their depiction of the undead: wearing ceremonial Asian garb, arms outstretched like Lugosi’s awkward “Frankenstein-walk”, hop-hop-hopping after the film’s hero, like some kind of bloodthirsty Peter Cottontail... it all seems pretty ridiculous to our Western eyes. That’s what we love about cheesy cult movies, though, isn’t it? That when we watch them we are both amused at the antics on-screen while being completely dumbfounded and asking, “What were they thinking?!” In this way, Jiangshi movies REALLY excel at being a go-to genre for “so bad, it’s good” movies. Even with impeccable subtitles, we never truly understand just what the hell is going on. We’re forced to sit back and just watch this kooky, offbeat concept and let it sear into our brains.

Now, I’m clearly no expert on Chinese culture, but my goal with these subgenre primers isn’t to be the definitive source of information on a topic. All I want is to give you a simple entrypoint into some obscure type of cinema, that you can use as a sort of treasure map to discover new frontiers. Before I give you an immense listing of well over 70 jiangshi films, let’s answer some questions that immediately pop into your head when you’re first introduced to these geung si monsters:
Hopping Vampire from Encounters Of The Spooky Kind (1980)
Hopping Vampire from Encounters Of The Spooky Kind (1980)
Why are they dressed this way?
Not all Chinese vampires are created equal. This style of dress is associated with traditional “Mandarin”, the bureaucrats of old-school mainland China, particularly during the Qing Dynasty. Think of this outfit as being akin to the powdered wigs and robes of British parliament. It is a symbol of elitism and thus turns these classic vampires into something of a political statement. All that being said, there are often depictions of vampires in Chinese films that more closely resemble Western vampire or zombie films. A newly-deceased body can be reanimated as well, resulting in a more casually-dressed monster.

Do they drink blood?
Not really. For the most part, Chinese vampires are just trying to gather enough “qi” or “chi” energy to return to life. Qi literally translates as “breath” or “air”. Essentially, they’re trying to suck out your soul. In some films, the vampirism is still treated as a disease and can be spread through being bitten. Just as our Western film culture has slow zombies and fast zombies, there are some Asian films that depict these vampires as blood suckers instead. Variety is the spice of life, or the afterlife, I suppose.

You keep saying “Chinese hopping vampires”, are they only in Chinese culture?
No way! Though we commonly refer to the Jiangshi as “Chinese hopping vampires” due to their popularity and prevalence in Hong Kong cinema, there have also been similar vampire films created in other regions of Asia. I’ll do my best to provide as many examples of Asian vampires as I possibly can at the end of this piece!
"The world's most dangerous selfie" from Mr. Vampire 2 (1986)
"The world's most dangerous selfie" from Mr. Vampire 2 (1986)
Why would a vampire have a piece of paper stapled to its forehead?
Now this is the hardest part for us to understand, as Westerners. That piece of paper has a special character drawn on it by a Taoist priest. That parchment with the “spell” drawn on it acts as a magical talisman. They can create talismans to summon all sorts of supernatural powers, from healing wounds to exorcising demons to resurrecting the dead. The Taoist priest, in theory, maintains control of these “vampires” as long as the talisman remains intact. In many films, the vampires go feral when the talisman is removed, and the easiest way to defeat them is to re-attach the talisman so that the priest regains control. This whole practice is somewhat similar to the concept of a voodoo priest raising a group of zombies to do their dirty work for them.

Why the fuck are they always hopping?
The common answer is that they hop because rigor mortis has set in, causing the body to stiffen up. This is somewhat baffling however, because these undead bastards quite often exhibit superhuman strength and the ability to leap great distances, yet they can’t, y’know... take a single step.

The better answer comes from Chinese folklore: Back in the Qing Dynasty, if someone died far away from home (let’s say they had moved to a big city for work), but their parents couldn’t afford a vehicle to transport the remains back home for burial, then the parents would hire a Taoist priest to return them home cheaply. This was very important back then because it was believed that their souls would be restless if they were buried far from home, turning the deceased’s spirit into a sort-of “homesick ghost”. The priests would transport the bodies only by night, because it was considered bad luck for anyone else to look upon the corpses. They would arrange the bodies upright in a single file line, tied to bamboo poles. One priest would balance the poles on his shoulders carrying from the front, and another priest carrying from the back. As they walked, the bamboo poles would flex up and down, giving the corpses the appearance of “hopping” in unison, as though they had been re-animated by the priests. Thus the legend of hopping corpses came to be.
Imagine this style of transportation, but with... y'know... dead people tied to the poles.
What’s the best way to introduce myself to Jiangshi cinema? Where should I start?
This is critically important. If you start with the wrong movie, you may just write off the whole genre as being “not for you” and you’ll think that anyone who enjoys it is soft in the head. Some geung si movies are so incredibly low budget, poorly edited, or just plain weird that you’ll find the barrier to entry is just way too steep. My advice, though it tends to be flawed, is to watch these movies in this order:

1) Mr. Vampire (1985) - rated 7.6 on IMDb, expertly directed, and most importantly - it introduces the monsters in the first few minutes. If this one entertains you, watch the sequels! They’re all pretty good.
2) Spooky Encounters (1980) - rated 7.1 on IMDb, starring the lovable Sammo Hung (who also wrote and directed the picture), this one has PHENOMENAL fight choreography. Horror, Action, & Comedy rarely blend this well.
3) Tsui Hark’s Vampire Hunters (2003) - This film is unfairly criticized because it came at the height of the kung fu renaissance with Tsui Hark’s name attached. This is a solid vampire flick with action inside it, NOT a straight-up martial arts masterpiece.
4) The Haunted Cop Shop (1987) - This one has some great laughs, but is definitely parodying other Hong Kong horror movies, which is why it’s best to start elsewhere.
5) The Ultimate Vampire (1991) - This one builds upon so many great 80s vampire classics.
6) Out Of The Dark (1995) - A quirky, goofy Stephen Chow vehicle featuring much more than just vampires.
7) The Vampire Combat (2001) - Strange special effects and an over-the-top antagonist highlight this oddball martial arts horror comedy.
8) Rigor Mortis (2013) - One of the newest, most artfully choreographed and shot vampire flicks to come from Asia... why shouldn’t you start here? Because it pays homage to the movies you’ve just watched, and stars many of the actors from the movies listed above.
9) Robo Vampire (1988) - This is a piece of Godfrey Ho trash, but I frequently put it on late at night, just for the laughs.
A showdown from Rigor Mortis (2013)
A showdown from Rigor Mortis (2013)
Even though jiangshi had been popular in films for quite some time before Mr. Vampire was released, that film is still the standard-bearer for the genre. Much in the way that George Romero's Night Of The Living Dead didn't invent the zombie film, but rather defined it in popular culture, Mr. Vampire was a pivotal film that cemented the hopping vampire's place in cinema history. The massive success of this film spawned multiple sequels, a spin-off series, and dozens of imitators over the next decade. Nearly half all jiangshi movies were released between 1985 and 1995, most of them trying desperately to duplicate the success of this franchise. Director Ricky Lau, producer Sammo Hung, and star Lam Ching-ying established themselves as the "holy trinity" of jiangshi films, as virtually any watchable film during this time period involved at least 1 of them.

While I have focused on talking about “hopping vampires”, it should be noted that not all Asian films feature that style of geung si. Often, filmmakers have chosen to feature a decidedly European-style vampire. That's fine with me, I’m still including them. A movie like “Blood: The Last Vampire” is definitely NOT full of hopping vampires, but I’ve included it anyway because I want to be as inclusive as possible with my list of Asian vampire cinema. Also, the jiangshi aren’t always played strictly as vampires. Sometimes, they’re portrayed similarly to zombies or ghosts. If there’s a classic hopping vampire flick I missed in the list below, PLEASE tell me. Now, let’s end the rambling!! Let’s get to the full list of movies, damnit. (In chronological order, of course!)
Action is more important than vampires in Blood: The Last Vampire (2009)
Action is more important than vampires in Blood: The Last Vampire (2009)
*UNDER CONSTRUCTION* - This list will soon be reformatted & all titles will be linked!

Midnight Vampire (1936) - dir: Kung-Leung Yeung - star:
The Voyage Of The Dead (1954) - dir: Kung-Leung Yeung - star: Kam-Tong Chan, Pik-Wan Tang, Bik-Ying Cheng
The Living Corpse (1958) - dir: Hung Yin, Shilin Zhu - star: Chuan-Chuan Chen, Yuen Kao, Hua Jiang
The Woman Vampire (aka The Lady Vampire) (1959) - dir: Nobuo Nakagawa - star: Shigeru Amachi, Takashi Wada, Junko Ikeuchi
Deadly Hands Of Kung Fu (aka The Dragon Lives Again) (1977) - dir: Kei Law - star: Siu-Lung Leung, Ie Lung Shen, Ching Tang
Shaolin Brothers (1977) - dir Joseph Kuo - star Carter Wong, Chung-Erh Lung, Shu-Tsai Chang
Spiritual Boxer 2 (1979) - dir Chia-Liang Liu - star Yue Wong, Cecilia Wong, Chia-Hui Liu
        
Encounters Of The Spooky Kind (1980) - dir Sammo Hung - star Sammo Hung, Fat Chung, Lung Chan
Shaolin vs Vampire (1980) - dir Chia-Hui Liu - star Yuki Kudo, Chia-Hui Liu
Ninja, The Violent Sorceror (1982) - dir Godfrey Ho - star Simon Reed, Harry Carter, Henry Steele
Lang Nu Bai Mo (1982) - dir Ling Chang - star Ling Chang, Feng Shih, Yu-Hsiang Chang
Yin Ji (1982) - dir Chiu Lee - star Billy Chong, Lieh Lo, Chung-Kuei Chang
Duel Of The Masters (1983) - dir Tong Wai-shing - star Norman Chu, Emily Chu, Yun-Kin Chow
Dragon Against Vampire (1985) - dir Lionel Leung - star Elton Chong, Carrie Lee, Martin Kim
Hello Dracula (aka Son Of Chinese Vampire) (1985) - dir Chung-Hsing Chao - star Tu Chin, Kuang Yung Lin, San Peng
   
Mr. Vampire (1985) - dir Ricky Lau - star Ching-Ying Lam, Siu-Ho Chin, Ricky Hui
Close Encounters Of The Vampire (1986) - dir Yuen Woo Ping - star Tung-chuan Cheng, Kao-Shan Hsiao, Bo-ya Hui
The First Vampire In China (1986) - dir Ying Wong - star Ho-Kwong Tang, Te-Lo Mai, Charlie Cho
Kung Fu Wonder Child (1986) - dir Tso Nam Lee - star Hsiao-Lao Lin, Yukari Oshima, Shan Chang
Mr. Vampire II (1986) - dir Ricky Lau - star Ching-Ying Lam, Biao Yuen, Billy Lau
New Mr. Vampire (1986) - dir Billy Chan - star Dong Lui, Siu Ho Chin, Siu-Fung Wong
New Mr. Vampire II (1986) - dir Kuo Hsiao Wu - star Yuet Sang Chin, Allen Hai-Han Lan, Ha Huang
   

The Haunted Cop Shop (1987) - dir Jeffrey Lau - star Jacky Cheung, Ricky Hui, Kitty Chan
The Toothless Vampires (1987) - dir Wong-Tu Lu - star Lau Chan, Yee-Hing Chan, Paul Che
Mr. Vampire III (1987) - dir Ricky Lau - star Ching-Ying Lam, Richard Ng, Billy Lau
The Haunted Cop Shop II (1988) - dir Jeffrey Lau - star Jacky Cheung, Ricky Hui, Sandy Lam
Magic Of Spell (1988) - dir Chung-Hsing Chao - star Hsiao-Lao Lin, Pao-Ming Ku, Shan Chang
Mr. Vampire Saga (1988) - dir Ricky Lau - star Anthony Chan, Wu Ma, Kar Lok Chin
Robo Vampire (1988) - dir Godfrey Ho - star Robin Mackay, Nian Watts, Harry Myles
The Vampire Readers (1988) - dir Godfrey Ho - star Martin Dukes, Walter Jackson, Chris Peterson
   
The Jitters (1989) - dir John Fasano - star Sal Viviano, Marilyn Tokuda, James Hong
Ninja Vampire Busters (1989) - dir Norman Law Man, Stanley Wing Sui - star Kent Cheng, Pak-Cheung Chan, Jacky Cheung
Spooky Encounters (aka Close Encounters Of The Spooky Kind 2) (1989) - dir Ricky Lau - star Sammo Hung, Ching-Ying Lam, Ha Huang
The Vampire Is Still Alive (1989) - dir Godfrey Ho - star Sorapong Chatree, Chien Sun
Vampire vs Vampire (1989) - dir Lam Ching-Ying - star Lam Ching-Ying, Billy Lau, Chin Siu-Ho
A Bite Of Love (aka Yi Yao O.K.) (1990) - dir Stephen Shin - star George Lam, Rosamund Kwan, Norman Chu
Doctor Vampire (aka Jiang Shi Yi Sheng) (1990) - dir Jamie Luk - star Bowie Lam, Ellen Chan, Sheila Chan
Here Comes A Vampire (1990) - dir Cheung-Yan Yuen - star Joanna Chan, Mandy Chan, Charlie Cho
Magic Cop (aka Mr. Vampire 5) (1990) - dir Wei Tung - star Ching-Ying Lam, Kiu Wai Miu, Wilson Lam
Vampires Settle On Police Camp (1990) - dir Chi-Hwa Chen - star Charlie Cho, Mou-Chou Huang, Eddy Ko
   
Crazy Safari (1991) - dir Billy Chan - star N!xau, Ching-Ying Lam, Lung Chan
The Ultimate Vampire (1991) - dir Wai-Keung Lau - star Ching-Ying Lam, Siu-Ho Chin, Ronald Long
Vampire Kids (1991) - dir Sau Hin Ha - star Billy Lau, Sandra Kwan Yue Ng, Fui-On Shing
Chinese Vampire Story (aka Mr. Vampire 5) (1992) - dir Ricky Lau - star Ching-Ying Lam, Ricky Hiu, Billy Lau
The Musical Vampire (1992) - dir Wilson Tong - star Stanley Sui-Fan Fung, Dickson Ga-Sing Lee, Xin Xin Xiong
Exorcist Master (1993) - dir Wu Ma - star Ching-Ying Lam, Wu Ma, Collin Chou
Holy Weapon (1993) - dir Jing Wong, Dennis Chan - star Michelle Yeoh, Carol Cheng, Maggie Cheung
   
Kung Fu Cult Master (aka Evil Cult) (1993) - dir Jing Wong, Sammo Hung - star Jet Li, Sharla Cheung, Chingmy Yau
Kung Fu Vampires (1993) - dir Cheung-Yan Yuen - star Chi An, Mandy Chan, Tseng Chang
Out Of The Dark (1995) - dir Jeffrey Lau - star Stephen Chow, Karen Mok, Ka-Yan Leung
N-Girls vs Vampires (1999) - dir Takashi Miike - star Ayana Sakai, Takashi Nagayama, Chiaki Ichiba
Kung Fu Vampire Killers (2001) - dir Phil Davison - star Katherine Beresford, Ellie Swann, Vincent Wong-Ming
The Vampire Combat (2001) - dir Wilson Tong - star Collin Chou, Valerie Chow, Tau Chu
Vampire Controller (2001) - dir Hung Wah Tony Leung - star Kathy Chow, Yee-Man Man, Yiu-Cheing Lai
   
Tsui Hark’s Vampire Hunters (aka The Era Of Vampires) (2003) - dir Wellson Chin - star Ken Chang, Michael Man-Kin Chow, Kwok-Kwan Chan
Vampire Effect (aka Twins Effect) (2003) - dir Dante Lam, Donnie Yen - star Gillian Chung, Charlene Choi, Jackie Chan
Lady Vampire (aka Nieng Arp) (2004) - dir Kam Chanty - star Sovan Makar, Dan Monika
Shaolin vs Evil Dead (2004) - dir Douglas Kung - star Chia-Hui Liu, Siu-Wong Fan, Xiaohu Shi
**Vampires: The Turning (2005) - dir Marty Weiss - star Colin Egglesfield, Stephanie Chao, Roger Yuan
Dating A Vampire (2006) - dir Clarence Yiu-leung Fok - star Matt Chow, Lik-Sun Fong, Cynthia Ho
Vampire Cop Ricky (2006) - dir Si-myung Lee - star Ho-jin Chun, Yeo-jeong Jo, Hie-jeong Kim
Shaolin vs Evil Dead: Ultimate Power (2007) - dir Douglas Kung - star Siu-Wong Fan, Marsha Yuen, Siu-Ming Lau
Vampire Super (2007) - dir Ricky Lau Koon-Wai - star Yuen Wah, Chin Ka-Lok, Candy Lo Hau-Yam
Blood: The Last Vampire (2009) - dir Chris Nahon - star Ji-Hyun Jun, Allison Miller, Liam Cunningham
Nanjing Road (2009)
Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl (2009) - dir Yoshihiro Nishimura, Naoyuki Tomomatsu - star Yukie Kawamura, Takumi Saito, Eri Otoguro
God Of Vampires (2010) - dir Rob Fitz - star Jayson Argento, Lilith Astaroth, Jon Bailey
Vampire Warriors (2010) - dir Dennis Lar - star Luxia Jiang, Wah Yuen, Chrissie Chau
   
Vampire Girls (2011) - dir Daisuke Miki - star Minori Hatsune, Sayuri Honjo, Komei Inose
Empress Of The Evil Dead (aka Aleta Vampire Mistress) (2012) - dir Phil Condit - star Ange Maya, Tom Cochran, Beau Nelson
Rigor Mortis (2014) - dir Juno Mak - star
Sifu vs. Vampire (2014) - dir Daniel Yee Heng Chan - star Ronald Cheng, Tony Ho, Michelle Hi
Hopping Vampire vs Zombie (2015) - dir Pingyuan Zhang - star Jingchuan Xu, Yuxuan Zhang, Yuan Yuan
Vampire Cleanup Department (2017) - dir Sin-Hang Chiu, Pak-Wing Yan - star Sui-Ho Chin, Hok-chi Chiu, Babyjohn Choi
Chinese dracula, from The Haunted Cop Shop (1987)
Chinese dracula, from The Haunted Cop Shop (1987)

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