There are no shortage of genre hybrid films in the history of cinema, and given a push towards the digital/indie market in a more contemporary setting these, along with anthology films seem to be taking the market by surprise. Many of these films are decidedly revisionist and while highly enjoyable also possess a degree of detached irony or situate themselves as a critique of one genre through the inclusion of the other. I have no problem with this, but it takes a considerable amount of the cinematic zeal out of it when one becomes aware of the layers of commentary going on within the directors offering. I, as such, assumed that genre hybrid films were always to be a thing I would pursue if in a particular mood or hoping for something completely off-the-wall, returning to Singing Cowboy films being a constant. Yet, when creating my list for the kung fu marathon, I was recommended by a stalwart cinephile and purveyor of all things excellent to check out, amongst other things Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires. Admittedly the name alone was enough to pique my interest, although I also assumed that it would be a film entirely entrenched within some of the more badly executed Chinese films of the seventies, ones that implode within their own excessiveness. However, when I began watching the film and was given "A Hammer/Shaw Brothers Production" to read, I went crazy. When one considers the genre of horror films, Hammer is the grandfather of all things gloriously macabre, whereas, an argument that the Golden Age of kung fu cinema began and ended with the work released by the producing brothers. At first, it appears as though Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires will be nothing more than a cleverly edited film that is two distinctly different stories using the Hammer and Shaw names as a marketing ploy, but this fear is quickly squashed when the icons and bodies famous to the Gothic horror begin to interact with those of the Shaw Brother world, breaking visual boundaries through the space of genre, while also doing a surprising amount to ease racial and language based tensions during a time when foreign cinema, particularly that of the art house style, where reading subtitles was one of many concerns. This intersection of crossover foreignness, even if decidedly Westernized represents a moment in cinema that is near impossible. The fact that Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires even exists is a feat all its own, the realization that it is also a great movie is simply a wonderful added benefit.
Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, begins with a flashback to Transylvania in the early 19th century, as a shaman from China seeks out the castle where the infamous Dracula (John Forbes-Robertson) resides. Finding him asleep in a mausoleum, the shaman is quickly horrified to discover not only that Dracula desires to come back to live, but that he also intends to use his body as a vessel, thus changing his appearance bend then affording himself the opportunity to find new bodies to feed off of in China. After this prologue, viewers are introduced to Lawrence Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) who has taken up residence as a professor at a Chinese university, claiming that Dracula's influences have stretched to the Far East and have led to a set of vampires ruining the Chinese countryside. Many of the students flippantly dismiss Van Helsing with the exception of Hsi Ching (David Chiang) who claims not only to have proof that the Seven Golden Vampires Van Helsing discusses exist, but that he and his brothers have been sworn to protect their villagers from the constant attacks of the undead monsters. Requiring proof of this, Van Helsing travels with Hsi, and brings along his son Lelyand Van Helsing (Robin Stewart) and a wealthy baroness named Vanessa Buren (Julie Edge) to finance the trip. The group eventually meet up with Hsi's siblings which include a variety of martial arts experts, including his sister Mai Kwei (Shih Szu) with whom Lelyand takes to liking. While Van Helsing is driven by ambition to complete his mission, he is also aware of the dangers befalling anybody hoping to fight one, let alone, seven vampires. The skills of Hsi and his siblings, nonetheless, proves high and they take out the vampires one by one, watching them melt away after being destroyed, Lelyand even throws his fists about in a pub fighting inspired version of martial arts, although he seems constantly concerned with his ability to protect his new love interest Mai. Ultimately though, the villain still remains to be Dracula and as such it is Van Helsing who must confront him, demanding that he return to his original body before fighting him, eventually stabbing him with a spike and causing the count to decay in front of his eyes. Exhausted, both physically and mentally, Van Helsing sighs, hopefully, having forever rid the world of Dracula's evil presence.
So what makes this work as a hybrid? It is tricky to decide whether or not it is the nations varied influences that make this film work, or what they pull from the respective genres, but it seems simplest to suggest that it is a combination of both. For example, the film clearly lifts its ambiance and costuming from the world of Hammer, the makeup of all involved carries that faded pastel look that made Hammer iconic, whether it be the sickly green of Dracula's face or the bright, yet florid blood that covers anybody dying or injured. Furthermore, even when in pagodas the sense of the setting possesses the decadence, indicative of a Hammer film, right down to the seemingly inescapable amount of cobwebs covering the walls. This is one element, the film seems more invested in the Shaw Brothers martial arts stylings when considering the editing and production of the film. For example, there are a heavy amount of zoom-in and pan outs throughout the film, one notable one involving a beheaded frog, that capture the frenetic nature of the action of kung fu cinema, which are far less present in the slow-pacing moodiness of a Hammer film. The two put together become nearly transcendental, playing off of one another much like a great improvisational jazz set. Culturally the films seem to be a exercise in well-thought out symbiosis. Take the dialogue interactions throughout the narrative. Scenes between the British characters have the rat-a-tat-tat of choppy, loquacious British demeanor, while scenes involving the Chinese character, take on the drawn out waxing poetics of honor, family and identity that are very present within the genre. At times, the two come together and you can witness the Chinese character playing with language in ways that would be more indicative of a Hammer film, whereas, Van Helsing at times will draw out his speech and ideas to represent the narrative leanings of a quest to become a master, in his case of killing Dracula. These are only a few examples, issues of religion and fraternal bonds also emerge, wherein the two cultures ideas are initially separated, only to converge in the most thrilling of ways.
Key Scene: When the fight starts involving vampire deaths, the movie's hybridity takes on a new level. Never has a drawn out melting vampire shot felt so frantic.
The DVD is a bit pricy, but trust me this is more than worth the investment.