PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

The Vampire Effect (Chin gei bin) (2003)

Erich Kuersten

The device aptly serves as metaphor for the risk currently facing Hong Kong cinema, namely, the pursuit of the global mainstream.


The Vampire Effect (chin Gei Bin)

Director: Dante Lam
Cast: Charlene Choi, Gillian Chung, Jackie Chan, Ekin Cheng, Edison Chen
MPAA rating: Not rated
Studio: Columbia
First date: 2003
US DVD Release Date: 2004-03-30

There's one new gimmick in Hong Kong's The Vampire Effect. To transcend their human frailty, vampire hunters Reeves (Ekin Cheng) and Gypsy (Gillian Chung) drink vampire blood extract. The catch is they must also drink an antidote within an hour or become vampires themselves. This makes them different from that most recently famous of vampire slayers, Buffy Summers, who was of a supernatural strain herself. Reeves and Gypsy's practice involves regular flirtation with the very thing they are attempting to destroy. This device aptly serves as metaphor for the risk currently facing Hong Kong cinema, namely, the pursuit of the global mainstream.

The Vampire Effect's plot concerns a centuries-old vampire, Prince Kazaf (Edison Chen), who falls in love with Reeves' kid sister Helen (Charlene Choi). At the same time, Gypsy falls for Reeves, but he's too busy brooding over their bloody, thankless job to take notice. The villains of the piece are a vampire group from the West, making their way around the world, sucking up all the blood energy of the old vampire royalty to create a new world order.

The group's leader, Duke Dekotes (Mickey Hardt), has a metal hand and looks like a taller, broader version of Tom Cruise in Interview with a Vampire (1994). Viewers may also be reminded of Cruise's most recent film, The Last Samurai (2003), in which he plays an iconic American hero whose immersion in Japanese feudal culture teaches him to value samurai ways. In The Vampire Effect, the imperialist purpose is less disguised. The Duke's yen to soak up the blood of ancient traditions leads to one bland mash of cheesy blue special effects.

Hong Kong and the West have long exchanged monsters and movies. TV's Xena and Buffy both borrowed freely from Hong Kong cinema, which in turn borrowed from them. But, as Hong Kong struggles to reach a mainstream U.S. audience, it is in danger of losing touch with what made it special in the first place.

The Vampire Effect manages to sustain its "special" identity for the most part, deploying a madcap surrealism familiar to H.K.'s horror/comedy/action genre. Gypsy and Helen battle over a teddy bear on a rooftop, and when the toy is tossed high overhead, we are treated to "bear's eye view" shots and mid-air, Matrix-like freezes. The goofy romantic chemistry between Kazaf and Helen is also amusing: when he works up the nerve to confess his vampirism, she is relieved he's not breaking up with her.

While Choi and Chung are fantastic (they're actually a pop music duo called The Twins, famous in Hong Kong), the same cannot be said of Jackie Chan, who seems shoehorned into the picture to draw Western audiences (this point is made obvious in the different promotional art choices: Jackie Chan is front and center on the British and American DVD covers, and nowhere to be found in the Asian poster). As a bug-eyed ambulance driver, Chan plays the comedy far too broadly; whenever he's on screen, the film's tone shifts to something along the lines of Abbot & Costello Meet the Mummy (1955).

The big climax recalls some Sci-Fi channel cheapie, with shimmering spells and anime-style bursts of power. (The church setting recalls John Woo.) The vampire hunters engage in dazzling displays of martial arts against the countless undead minions, but one can't help but feel, after Buffy, Blade, Underworld, and Kill Bill Vol. 1, that stylized blood baths are getting old. The vampires take their sword thrusts, Xena-style, in some bloodless region of their midsections, then dissolve into sanitary CGI-ed dust, as they do in Buffy.

This eclipsing of Hong Kong cinema's quirky, homegrown (and often blood-drenched) weirdness by Western digital magic is tragic. The last thing our beleaguered global action cinema needs is for the source to begin imitating its own imitation. Hong Kong actors no longer have to dangle out of helicopters like Jackie Chan did in Supercop (1996); now they can just dangle in front of a blue screen. It might be safer for the actors and stunt men, but it's not as exhilarating for viewers.

Nonetheless, The Vampire Effect features enough oddball humor to keep it jumping, as well as a seeming anti-globalization subtext in the demonized American vampires. No moment is more telling (if you are watching the DVD's original Cantonese version) than when Duke Dekotes speaks English and the Chinese characters abandon their native language to answer him in kind. The effect is startling, as if the Duke has already infected the whole cast with his virus.

The moment also recalls worries associated with Hong Kong's 1997 return to Chinese government, that action films would lose their beloved sensationalism, contained by national censorship and perhaps even Communist morality. Instead, Western influences are doing the damage, with The Vampire Effect as Exhibit A. Catering to Western tastes doesn't pay off in this case. The Vampire Effect arrives on U.S. shores with little fanfare, dumped straight to video.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.