Sunday 7 June 2009

Robo Vampire (1988)

Director: Godfrey Ho
Stars: Robin Mackay, Nina Watts, Harry Myles and Joe Browne

Kung Fu vs Yoga was an awesome kung fu movie but it hinted at hopping vampires and then didn't deliver, so I just had to rush home and watch a hopping vampire movie and this one has been on my list for a while. It's a Godfrey Ho movie, he who made the most awesomely bad ninja movies ever, and I'd used it to test a stack of old DVD players with. Flipping through the chapters to make sure that the remotes worked OK showed me clips of stunning weirdness that are simply irresistable to a fan of bad exploitation movies.

Our bad guy is a nasty heroin dealer called Cole. When we first meet him he takes off his nasty heroin dealer sunglasses and complains about 'Tom, the goddamn anti-drug agent'. His henchmen naturally want to know what he's going to do about such a thorn in their side, so he points out that he's hired a Taoist to sic vampires on him. Now if you've seen any Chinese vampire films, you know that Chinese vampires hop and you stop them by fixing Taoist scrolls to their foreheads. Being dressed in traditional Mandarin garb, they also don't tend to appear in crime thrillers set in the present day, making this a curious anomaly. What's more the anomalies keep on coming.

First we get to play with the traditional stuff a little more. We're treated to a scene where the Taoist priest gets ready to demonstrate to a couple of western drug dealers the coolest of his bevy of vampires: the one called Peter who wears what looks like a gorilla mask. But before he can conjure him to life, a white clad ghost called Christine breaks up the affair by leaping into the fray through extreme wirework. She complains about what's going on in dialogue that's as blissfully outrageous as anything in Dead Men Walk.

'How dare you take my lover's corpse, Taoist,' she cries at the priest, 'and turn it into a vampire beast? Now he is condemned to a living death and we can never be together in the afterlife!'

The priest replies, 'But he is from the east and you the west. How can you explain this?'

Naturally she's happy to explain, in scary amounts of detail. 'Orientals are a stubborn race. Both his parents opposed our marriage. It was then that we decided if we could not be together in this life, Peter and I would be together forever in the afterlife. You have robbed us of this by turning him into a vampire beast! Now my thoughts are of revenge!'

Awesome stuff, huh? Well we haven't started yet. After we leave the traditional side of the film with the nice western drug dealers recommending that they be married in a Taoist ceremony to unite their souls in the afterlife, we head over to find what Tom's up to. In case you'd forgotten, he's that goddamn anti-drug agent that Cole is so obsessed with, and sure enough he's so indestructable that it takes one whole scene to take him down. And that's the end of Tom: as a nurse who's fond of redundant comments points out, 'It was a fatal wound. He's dead.'

Well, that ought to be the end of Tom, but no! His friend and colleague is completely unphased that their star agent is dead, and turns to their boss and says, 'Since Tom's dead I want to make use of his body to create an android like robot.' Naturally there's no objection from the boss and so an Eastern ripoff of RoboCop is born, costumed entirely in silver fabric pretending to be metal, and going by the name of Robo Warrior. Naturally whenever he moves in the slightest the sound effects thud and clang and the hydraulics kick into play for every subtle movement that takes place outside of a fight. And of course he heads out solo to take down Cole.

Meanwhile somewhere in the mix is another bad guy called Young, who is tied up in the same racket and who kidnaps and tortures one of Tom's fellow agents, a woman named Sophie. So a bunch of mercenaries get hired to rescue her. This section is fun because of a cute Asian chick with an Australian accent and a destroyed village where all the locals are wiped out and tied upside down to crosses, but it really can't compete with the main half of the film, the one with Robo Warrior, the ghost and the gorilla masked hopping vampire. It's utterly surreal: 'You can kill us, but wait until our love's consummated!'

Now any exploitation film fan worth his salt has to see this film but knows that it's going to be truly awful. I should point out that it utterly refuses to follow the rules even of the games it takes to merge together in an awesomely unholy union. These aren't your run of the mill Chinese hopping vampires and I'm not just talking about the gorilla mask. These hopping vampires have zombie makeup and eat flesh. They are talented at wirework martial arts and are so acrobatic that they can even teleport. The don't just hop relentlessly forward, they even hop sideways or rapidly in circles. They breathe smoke and launch fireworks from their fingertips. The Taoist priest can even conjure them out of a jar he carries with a few ritual waves of his hand.

What's more not a single one of these actors seems to have done anything else. The highlighted stars are Robin Mackay, Nina Watts, Harry Myles and Joe Browne and according to IMDb each of them has been involved with precisely one movie: Robo Vampire. It's apparently a USA/Hong Kong production, but there are certainly Aussies involved and Sorapong Chatree is Thai. Really it doesn't feel like something from any of these countries: it just feels like a Godfrey Ho movie.

Ho was a master (or maybe that's not the right word) of taking two separate films and editing them into one new one. Often he didn't even make the source films, buying them in from other Asian countries, whether they had been finished or not. In this way Richard Harrison, who made a mere handful of movies for Ho (the real number seems to be nigh on impossible to find, but I'm guessing at one or two), but ended up edited into about twenty of them. This patchwork approach is fascinating to watch, often utterly ludicrous but somehow with its own charm and the more you watch, the more you have to keep watching.

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