Robo Vampire

Director: Joe Livingston                           
Robin MacKay, Nian Watts, Harry Mytes

When the name "Tomas Tang" is brought up in everyday conversation, the immediate thought of the average Joe is something along the lines of "Oh, he was one of the main guys behind a lot of those crazy Ninja movies that came out of Hong Kong in the '80s." I've previously written about two of those movies - Ninja Champion and Ninja: Silent Assassin, which, like their brethren, cut in newly-filmed footage of western actors playing ninjas into footage from other movies that were never finished. The bizarre results could only have come out of those '80s. 

The ninja phenomenon died in the 90s, and with it disappeared Italian superstar Richard Harrison (who appeared in most of these hybrid ninja movies), and it seems that Tang's frequent collaborators Godfrey Ho and Joseph Lai went their own ways. So what could a now-alone Tang do, with western audiences finding ninjas passť, as well as a sign that a movie with them from Hong Kong is to be regarded with suspicion? The immediate answers: rip Though he wore a stretchable cloak to the chili fest, he didn't check if it was gas permeableoff not just one but two completely different genres, in the process doing more mixing of unfinished filming with new footage. As well throw in a few more western actors into the movie to disguise the "Asianess" of the results. Well, it's clear from the end results that the movie was made in Asia, because no other filmmaking culture could make a movie as flabbergasting, berserk, insane, and stark raving mad as this one. This is another of those movies where the best way to review it is to simply describe what happens.

The movie opens in a graveyard that's looking pretty desecrated, with the stonework crumbling and a few coffins (which the gravediggers apparently forgot to bury) starting to rot. Into this bleak landscape, two machine-gun wielding Caucasian soldiers, wearing combat outfits right off the Value Village rack, escort their Asian prisoner. The whole place is so creepy, that when the soldiers see a snake several feet away, they empty half a clip into the poor reptile, making it blow up real good before our eyes. Before we find out who any of these people are, what they are doing there etc., they are attacked - by vampires. Now, that may not sound unusual by itself, but these are Asian vampires, and they are quite different than the European kind. Among other things:

(1) They dress in ancient cumbersome Chinese clothing, including very big hats

(2) Their faces appear to be covered with globs of chewed black bubblegum

(3) They usually keep their arms straight up before them, like you see with sleepwalkers

(4) They get around by hopping. They "walk-hop" if they want to get to something a few feet away, or hop up several feet in the air if they want to get to something above them. No walking, running, or flying - just hopping. (Those familiar with Hong Kong movies will already know that seeing hopping vampires in Asian cinema is not unusual.)

As different as these vampires may be, they are still quite deadly, easily shrugging off the bullets the soldiers fire into them. While the prisoner escapes, the first soldier is strangled, and his corpse drops down to the ground with his tongue sticking out of his mouth as far as it can go. Despite a valiant struggle, the second soldier is soon overcome, and a huge chunk of flesh is bitten off of his neck. Much better than black bubblegum.

Afterwards, there is a (very vague) suggestion that the two soldiers were part of an anti-drug force. We next see soldiers in similar garb catch a group of criminals making a drug delivery at a beach, and then the soldiers (apparently) gun down these unarmed and surrendering criminals. Two of them manage to escape back to their hideout, where they shamefully await Kull, their boss, to chew them out. Instead, Kull suddenly blurts out, "Listen - we must find a way to handle Tom, that goddamn anti-drug agent....I've employed a Taoist - he'll train vampires to deal with him!" That seems to wash well with everyone there, so the meeting more or less ends at that point, with a last mention that a Tony and a Ken will watch over the Taoist vampires. 

Tony and Ken are quite a duo, as we see when the action subsequently cuts to a temple full of vampires in suspended animation (a piece of paper with Chinese writing stuck to their hats and hanging in front of their faces keeps them in check.) Tony, for one, is able to speak quite clearly despite having a cigarette between his gritted and unmoving teeth. Ken is quite a scaredy-cat; as he stuffs the vampires' corpses full of drugs, he keeps praying that the vampires won't turn on them when he isn't lighting incense and chanting, RoboWarrior - in all its (*ahem*) glory! "Bless our drugs!" All of Ken's effort are in vain, though; a cigarette burn to the crotch (don't ask) is the first sign that the vampires are waking up, and soon the entire temple is a big brawl, with Ken and Tony engaging in slapstick kung-fu with the hopping vampires. This fighting will look very familiar to Hong Kong movie fans, especially when the mustached Taoist priest comes in out of nowhere and saves the day. This scene, and the reoccurring elements with the hopping vampires and the Taoist priest are blatant imitations of the elements found in the hugely popular Hong Kong movie Mr. Vampire (and its sequels.) I will say that the retread of Mr. Vampire here is as fun as in the original film - but for unintentional reasons this time.

After a confusing "meanwhile..." cut to another location, where packets of drugs are being stuffed into the (apparently) real corpse of a cow while onlooking guards laugh at this utterly gruesome activity, we go back to the temple. The Taoist priest is preparing to unveil his greatest vampire creation to two of Kull's observing thugs. Though what seems to be different about this particular vampire is that its face seems to be covered by a really cheesy rubber gorilla mask instead of black bubblegum. But before the priest can really show off what his vampire creation can do, a ghost (a Caucasian woman in white flowing robes) flies into the scene. Her name is Christina, and she resents that her former Asian boyfriend Peter was turned into a vampire! For you see, when they were alive, their parents wouldn't let them marry, since they were against mixed marriages. So they (apparently - this also is never made clear) killed themselves so they could be together in the afterlife. After getting into some hard-core patty-cake fighting with the priest, Christina soon finds herself fighting Peter, who doesn't recognize her in her new form. But as soon as Peter sees a tattoo on her thigh, he recognizes her. The observing thugs then insist that the priest get Christina and Peter married(!) Though the priest initially is equally opposed to mixed marriage (at least between a ghost and a vampire), he relents.

Now that the fuss concerning Christina and Peter is solved, Kull and his gang resume their drug operation with a vengeance. They are not worried anymore, even when Tom and one of his anti-drug squads attack one Since flowers are expensive in Hong Kong, they greet visitors in a different way shipment, and a shoot-out with the two groups six feet away from each other. The priest simply opens a bottle - apparently, he has bottled vampires - and unleashes a vampire on the squad. The squad tries fighting back, but all their efforts are ineffective, and the vampire unleashes steam and fireworks at all of them. The camera subsequently focuses in on the face of one of the unmoving squad members. I guess that's supposed to be Tom; I say "guess", because there has been no positive identification of this Tom guy previously in the movie.

It turns out that guy was Tom. Dying, he is transported into the best medical facilities the squad have, a converted garage. Despite the fact the operating doctor's physical features look as heroic as those of Michael Dudikoff's, the medical machine connected to Tom's body soon goes from displaying a big "+" symbol to a big "-" symbol. Literally seconds after Tom passes away, a colleague of his approaches their superior and states, "Since Tom is dead, I want to use his body to make an android-like robot, Mr. Glen. I would appreciate you approving my application."

Mr. Glen isn't quite convinced. "Are you assured success?"


"Well, then your application is approved."

Believe it or not, "Over The Top" was a big influence on Asian Cinema

If this plot twist isn't enough for you, don't worry - it's here that the movie decides to add an additional subplot to the movie. Somewhere else in The Golden Triangle, we see some armed thugs running riot on a religious compound, looking for a stash of drugs hidden there. Though they find the drugs hidden in the chapel's big cross, they are momentarily thwarted by a blonde woman with an assault rifle. (Vampires, cyborgs, and now blondes with guns - this movie has it all!)

While the mysterious woman and the thugs exchange gunfire for the next few minutes, we observe that there are mysterious forces at work here. Though they don't involve vampires, we do see day changing into night (and vice versa) several times, as well as the blonde woman's hair mysteriously turning a shade of grey whenever she has to do something risky, like jumping out of a window and rolling on the ground. Eventually she is caught, and it's revealed that this blonde woman, Sophie, is actually a drug agent. It's now up to the anti-drug squad to rescue her. Will they send their new cyborg creation to save her? No! After all, if you're adding a new subplot, why not more characters? So we are introduced to "Ray", a commando mercenary leader who is paid $30,000 to get a Dirty Dozen platoon together to save her. (Though it ends up being more like a Smelly Six.)

Meanwhile, RoboTom has been activated, and after thirty seconds of practice he is ready to be released into the line of duty. He first busts into a drug lab and captures the workers... peacefully! Don't worry, action fans, RoboTom soon gets into battle. When Richard and the Taoist priest encounter more drug agents during another shipment, they again unleash vampires on them. It goes very badly for the agents one again, but soon RoboTom (actually, here he's finally given the name of "RoboWarrior") enters the scene, and he fights off the vampires with his machine gun and fists. After the battle is over, he radios in for help for all the fallen drug agents. Very considerate of him - though it would have been more considerate if he had gotten there sooner. Meanwhile, Sophie is being given the old Chinese water torture, and she is screaming "Turn it off!" The head honcho replies, "This is only the beginning - it goes much worse than this!" 

Very apt words, because at this point of the movie, the running time isn't even half over! I have simply not begun to properly describe the equally insane plot developments that Being surrounded and pointed at brought back unpleasant childhood memories for RoboWarriorfollow from this point. Nor have I begun to describe the absolute inept way these plot developments are executed, from RoboWarrior's footsteps making loud "thump" noises on a beach to RoboWarrior's many fights  with the vampires (which greatly resemble that childhood game "Ring Around The Rosies".) Though I am sure some cynical viewers will be echoing Sophie's cry of "Turn it off!" not long into the movie, it's very unlikely to be said by viewers who have a shred of humor in them. By now, you have certainly decided whether you want to see this movie or not, so I'll say no more - except to note that Tang has outdone himself with this effort. (And I expect the last seven words of that previous sentence to be quoted on the video/DVD box when it's reissued.)

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Give Me My Money, Ninja Champion, Ninja: Silent Assassin