Further falling from his once-secure position as one of Asia’s most exciting commercial filmmakers, Tsui Hark continues his recent output of Hong Kong hooey with “Tsui Hark’s Vampire Hunters.” Project has the stench less of rotting flesh than the whiff of a thoughtless quickie. It boggles the mind that Tsui as producer and writer deigned to have his name attached to the title for release in Anglo markets. (In H.K. and Nippon theatrical runs last year, pic went under the humbler title “The Era of the Vampires.”) Stateside strategy as a midnight movie programmer quickly followed by vid release is a smart move, but in the great tradition of nocturnal bloodletters, this trails far behind the pack.
Although Tsui carries the reputation for being de facto director on most of the projects he produces under his Hark & Co. banner, it’s a good guess that on this one, longtime H.K. helmer Wellson Chin was the boss on the set, since he has made a specialty of late with cut-rate horror vehicles, after a healthy run as a prolific maker of policiers.
There’s hardly a frame of “Vampire Hunters” that resembles any of Tsui’s own films, starting with the dreadful opening bout in a dank, underlit forest set during the 17th century’s Ching Dynasty. Four warriors are assigned by their master (Ji Chun Hua) to defeat a roving band of zombies, who, if left to their own devices and given enough time, somehow transform into vampires.
With consistently incoherent action and choppy pacing, viewers are left to gaze on a tiny handful of marvels, such as the vampires gathering up their victims’ blood like a monstrous vacuum cleaner and a brief series of snappy, compact sword fights the warriors must wage against various human opponents. It’s symptomatic of Chin’s messy staging and Tsui’s manic scripting that the prime baddie, a haughty and lethal fellow named Dragon Tang (Horace Lee Wai Shing), seems to be set up as the central opponent until he’s unaccountably dispatched well before the actual climax.
The spell of latenight giddiness may impart some magical sheen to the sheer awfulness of the finale’s bargain-basement effects, which show the chief giant vampire (which could be mistaken for Shaquille O’Neal dunked in a deep-fryer) appearing to sprout an extra, but ultimately futile, head. The actors playing the warriors — Chan Kwok Kwan, Ken Chang, Lam Suet, Michael Chow Man-Kin — have all had better days in H.K. cinema, and soon will again.