Dragon Against Vampire

Director: Lionel Leung         
Elton Chong, Carrie Lee, Martin Kim

Dragon Against Vampire is one of those kind of movies. You know, the kind that instantly let you know their quality by the opening Chinese Fried Dog - it's chopstick-lickin' good!credits alone. As soon as the first frame of this Hong Kong movie appears onscreen, we can read in big letters "ELTON CHONG" and "CARRIE LEE". Let's hope no one thinks at this point that might be the title of the movie. Before the actual title comes up, we are then given the names of three more of the actors, sadly none having a name as wacky as the one "Elton" has, though "EAGLE HAN" comes close. Though curiously, all their first names are English ones as well, proving maybe the British were more prolific in Hong Kong before the handover in 1997 than you originally thought. (Though in another of those amazing coincidences, every cast member was born favoring the Chinese side of their family tree.) But you can tell much more about this movie from the credits not just from the names of the actors. The credit for the executive producer reads "JOSEPH LAI" - the man behind those cut-and-paste ninja movies like Ninja Champion and Ninja: Silent Assassin, so we know it's going to be one wacked-out ride ahead. And where there is Joseph Lai, you know that his frequent collaborator Godfrey Ho can't be far behind. He's here alright, though only as a screenwriter. Curiously, he bills himself here as "Benny Ho". You have to wonder: Are some things so embarrassing to him that he feel he has to use a new pseudonym over the one he's obviously been working with for years? The implications of that are too warped to seriously think about.

Actually, I feel I must point out that Dragon Against Vampire does not appear to be the usual Lai/Ho cut-and-paste job. It appears to be a completely original movie. It's also happens to be one of those movies that doesn't tell its audience what the situation is at the beginning. Whether this was intentional or was just simply because of incompetence of the filmmakers I can't be sure. All I can do is mention this beginning, which consists of three ragged men running through the Chinese countryside. What are they running from? Well, from their dialogue they seem to be running for their lives, but from what? And why are two of them laughing as they are franticly running? For that matter, why do they all have English names when the time period seems to be several centuries ago? "Martin", the fat one of the trio, collapses on the ground. Seconds later, he is startled by a hand popping out of the ground that tries to grab him. Then another hand pops out, but he's able to dodge it, and the hand reburies itself through reverse photography. His two friends, watching all the time, are stunned. "What the hell's going on?" asks one. The other one replies, "I don't know - it sounds like thunder!" While we're trying to figure that response out, the three pick themselves up and continue running. They eventually rest in front of a sign, and the sign happens to be a picture of the trio. However, the text accompanying the sign happens to be in Chinese, and as with many dubbed Asian movies, the translators didn't bother to put any subtitles, so we're still mystified as to just what is going on.

This is also one of those movies where people react to things in ways that don't seem normal. Not just with that "thunder" comment, but in the next scene, taking "Did anyone here lose an industrial-sized funnel?"place at some Chinese inn. As his two daughters are working in the kitchen, the innkeeper is engaged in conversation with a friend. The friend mentions a "master" who is on the rampage in the village, but only after women. "Yes, it's really disgusting," the innkeeper feebly responds, but seconds later is laughing it up with his friend when the friend ends by saying, "It would be awful if something were to happen to [your daughters]." Maybe it's a cultural thing, which may also answer why the coffin the three men dig up in the next scene was buried only six inches below the surface. "Tony" finds a gold swastika buried with the corpse. Well, that's believable, since the swastika has been a religious symbol in many cultures for centuries. It's also believable that women of this period weren't shaving their armpits, which we get to see when we abruptly cut to one of the sisters taking a bath, though the sight of this actually manages to be more troubling than a swastika. Fortunately, some guy - presumably this aforementioned "master" - kidnaps her right there and there, and dresses her in his hideout. Then he does... well, it seems he just stands there doing nothing while weird electronic music comes out of nowhere. These strange chords somehow plant a smile on the woman's face, and this prompts the guy to stab her with an arrow. Maybe this guy is Lester Bangs in a previous incarnation.

This seems to be one of those movies where maybe the only way it could be fully appreciated is by those born and raised on the same home turf as the filmmakers. One example of this is in the next scene, where Martin acts like a dog so that he can lure a real dog to approach him... and subsequently cook up the dog for him and his friends. ("Duck a l'orange tonight!") As they are eating, a man chained up in a cave below them thumps on the ceiling with a long log. They question the noise but don't make any real effort to figure it out - after all, they didn't question or investigate those hands popping out of the ground in the first scene, so why should they (or the film for that matter) try to explain things? Besides, in short notice they are jumped by some guy, so there's no time to investigate. There's also no time to explain who this guy is, and why he is trying to catch them... or kill them... or something. Martin steps in, and his grotesquely big belly fully repels the stranger when he attacks with a kung-fu kick, and his pals rub his belly in admiration and thanks afterwards. However, things turn for the worse when the third man of the trio (who still hasn't been named) tries attacking with his shoe, and soon all three of them are running for their lives. Tony gets away by going to a nearby river and... well, it's not clear, but it seems he climbs onto a turtle with the swimming speed of a boat with a small outboard motor, even while Tony is also carrying a log that's about six feet long. "Huh, that can't be real," breaths the pursuer left behind on the opposite bank. Indeed.

Dragon Against Vampire is one of those movies that remains consistent in key ways. For example, when Tony is subsequently reunited with He really has a good head on his shoulders! -or- He always got a lot of head!his two friends (who have been passing the time playing scissors/paper/rock) in a way more casual than you could ever imagine, their collective intelligence still would be best defined without that "i" word. When they discover a warning tripwire and reel it in to the source, they immediately barge into the building before them, a creepy shrine of some kind. Another way the movie remains constant is shown shortly after they bunk down there for the night; the third member of the trio still isn't named at this point. That's even when the movie decides to have that aforementioned "master" use his powers to get those hands (remember?) to burst out of the ground and strangle the guy. Apparently the master isn't confident on his powers, because he makes sure the guy is dead by bashing him on the head with a mallet before secreting his body away. Martin and Tony wake up to find the master standing before them. "My word is law here," barks the master. "Anyone found interfering with my life won't live to tell the tale!" The master summons all his powers to start... a staring contest. He looks at Martin and Tony. Martin and Tony look at him. Several worldess seconds go by. And by. Eventually you figure out that the master is supposed to be hypnotizing Martin, so he can kill Tony. The hypnotized Martin grabs for Tony's crotch, but fortunately Tony hung that gold swastika over his own treasure, if you follow me, and the touch of it breaks the spell. They run off.

The movie is also one of those kinds that don't remain constant in some ways. When Martin and Tony are seen outside running away, it's suddenly the middle of the day. Well, I suppose there is the possibility that they have been running non-stop since the middle of the night. Though if that's the answer, we also have to assume that they were running in circles all that time. That's because as they are running, Tony crosses the area where they were dining on dog the previous day, and the ground gives away under his feet. Dropping twenty feet below onto solid rock as large bits of the rock ceiling drop around him, Tony grimaces over his slightly bruised butt. He finds the old man there who had earlier thudded on the ceiling, and sees that he has been chained to the wall. For our benefit, we are abruptly given a flashback of this old man being offered a (plastic) bowlful of "special elixir" from his student - who happens to be the "master" previously mentioned - which screws him up shortly before the bowl drops to the floor and breaks into pieces. (What's that they say about "Made in China" products?) This makes him able to chain up the old man, who is pretty miffed about it. Tony hears for himself when hides upon hearing the master coming. The old man yells, "You're not my student! If you were, you wouldn't treat me like this!... Shaolin sorcery martial skills aren't for catching girls!" The master leaves upon saying he's still determined to learn the martial arts that will help him take over the world! (Bwa-ha-ha!) When the coast is clear, a wised-up Tony goes back to the old man and... laughs at him. "That's a really lousy student you've got yourself there. So you must be a lousy teacher!"

Tony refuses to get involved in "other people's business" (guess he lives in his own world), so the pissed-off old man tries some "eye sorcery" on him, though the There was always a big fight over who was going to feed the Jolly Green Giantprotective power of the swastika protects the unknowing Tony, and he leaves. Making his way out of the cave, Tony is jumped by a wild man of some kind. Maybe it's the owner of those hands that keep bursting out of the ground. Maybe this wild man is supposed to be the vampire of the title. Maybe both, who knows? Whatever the case, they get into a big fight, at least from the sound of it because you can hardly see a damn thing in the darkness of this particular area of the cave. Tony escapes, but is caught by that guy who was pursuing them earlier. We immediately cut to Martin sleeping in a haystack. Snore. Snore. Snore. Snore. Snore. Snake starts crawling on him. Snore. Snore. Snore. Snore. Snore. We then cut back to the cave, where the guy is scolding the captured Tony on their grave-robbing. Something comes up behind the guy and hits him, scaring Tony. What was it? Before we learn, we see the evil master in the inn, finishing his dinner and using his powers to make the now sisterless woman's pants fall down. After he leaves, Tony and Martin enter the restaurant. Guess what happened in the cave wasn't that important at all, nor how Tony and Martin managed to reunite. Nor do I think it's necessary for me at all to describe further what strangeness is yet to come. After all, as you very well know, this is one of those kind of movies.

UPDATE: "James" wrote in with this information:

"Dragon Against Vampire is actually Korean. It is likely that the contributions of Godfrey Ho and Joseph Lai extended no more then distributing the film internationally - and making up most of the cast list's bogus English names. Curiously, for once, Ho doesn't seem to have credited himself as director on this one. Eagle Han is a Korean actor who did appear in some Hong Kong films, including Dragon Fist, an early Jackie Chan flick."

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See also: Indian Superman, Ninja Strike Force, Robo Vampire