Film Review: The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Chang Cheh, 1974) 七金屍 - Between Bruce and Jackie

Updated: Aug 13

In memory of Dir. Chang Cheh (張徹; 1923-2002) and Mr. Hajime Ishida (石田一; 1956-2014)

FILE PHOTO: An art work for pitching The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires to investors. ©Hammer Film Productions
FILE PHOTO: An art work for pitching The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires to investors. ©Hammer Film Productions

FILM AND REALITY


Despite the sudden death of the kung fu movie superstar Bruce Lee (an Asian American actor; 1941-1973) in July 1973, the Hong Kong film industry had continuously thrived until 1992. From the historical point of view, the most interesting period could be between Enter the Dragon (the world-famous Bruce Lee film masterpiece, Dir. Robert Clouse; 1973) and Drunken Master (undoubtedly Jackie Chan's most important film success, Dir. Yuen Woo-ping; 1978).


Bruce Lee's unexpected death did kill Hong Kong cinema and its momentum? No.

In general, film schools and paid film teachers depict this specific period as some kind of economically declined, less attractive, creative time hollow of Hong Kong cinema only due to the loss of Bruce Lee. Less is known, however, about the effects of the creative period between 1973 and 1978. One of simple answers to this controversy is that Hong Kong made more financially successful films for the local film market after his death. For instance:


Under the major commercial competition between Shaw Brothers (1925-) and Golden Harvest (1970-), Bruce Lee films like The Big Boss (1971) made 3.19 million HKD, Way of the Dragon (1972) made 5.30 million HKD, Fist of Fury (1972) made 4.30 million HKD, and Enter the Dragon (1973) made 3.30 million HKD. Bruce Lee's ''completed'' films of this era are only four films, and it shouldn't include Bruceploitation films (e.g. Game of Death and Game of Death II).


On the contrary,


Games Gamblers Play (the Hui Brothers; 1974) earned 6.25 million HKD. It far exceeded Bruce Lee's all local box office records. The Last Message (the Hui Brothers; 1975) earned 4.55 million HKD. The Private Eyes (the Hui Brothers; 1976) earned 8.53 million HKD. Money Crazy (Dir. John Woo; 1977) earned 5.05 million HKD. The Contract (the Hui Brothers; 1978) earned 7.82 million HKD. The Fearless Hyena (Dir. Jackie Chan; 1979) earned 5.44 million HKD. (1)


Apparently, the death of Bruce Lee did not end the golden era of Hong Kong cinema at all. One of his successors Jackie Chan's masterpiece Drunken Master (1978) actually made 6.76 million HKD which was and still is the higher box office record than any of Bruce Lee films in terms of the local film market. Therefore, ''official narrative'' must be revised in film schools. Instead, filmmakers, film scholars and film students should prudently learn the historically important period between 1973 and 1978. (2)


In addition, unlike ''official narrative'' (a.k.a. political correctness) of Chinese film critics, all King Hu films weren't the top box office hits in the Hong Kong local film market throughout the history (even his legendary masterpiece, a Hong Kong film A Touch of Zen only earned HKD 678,320; the 1968 Hong Kong box office champion was 007 You Only Live Twice not his major box office hit Dragon Gate Inn). It was one of Hong Kong film maestros, Dir. Chang Cheh (he made the first Chinese feature film of the post-World War II Taiwan, Happenings in Ali Shan as a KMT official in 1949. Then, he had worked there until 1957) who made number one box office hits with his martial-arts-costume-play films in the late 1960s in terms of local film production. Such as The One-Armed Swordsman (1967), Golden Swallow (1968) and Return of the One-Armed Swordsman (1969).


This film essay seeks to evaluate the creative importance of the extremely underrated Hammer-Shaw-co-production film The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (earned HKD 643,405, UK-Hong Kong, 1974) which was co-directed by Dir. Roy Ward Baker (his best-known films are A Night to Remember (1958), Quatermass and the Pit (1967), The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Scars of Dracula (1970); 1916-2010) and Dir. Chang Cheh.


Although Hammer Film could not make the sequel Kali, Devil Bride of Dracula in India (it means that Hammer Film had no intention to fully localise the western vampire genre in Hong Kong as a new film franchise for Chinese audiences), the creative influence of The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (UK-Hong Kong, 1974) was huge in both Hong Kong and Taiwan. Audiences still can visually confirm and realise its creative impacts on famous Chinese horror films mentioned below.


For Hong Kong cinema, it had inspired and prepared more localised vampire films. Such as the non-horror-kung fu film from Shaw Brothers, The Shadow Boxing (a.k.a. 茅山殭屍拳; 1979), Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980), Mr. Vampire (a cult movie, the greatest Chinese horror film produced by Sammo Hung, one of supporting actors Ha Huang who played Mr. Yam is in The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires; 1985), Mr. Vampire II (1986), Mr. Vampire III (the horse thieves / bandits are similar to the 7 golden vampires; 1987), Mr. Vampire IV (1988) and Vampire vs Vampire (Dir. Lam Ching-ying, distributed by Golden Harvest; 1989).


Besides this, producer Tsui Hark (1950-)'s A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), A Chinese Ghost Story II (1990), A Chinese Ghost Story III (1991) and his ''unofficial'' remake of The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, The Era of Vampires (this is another extremely underrated masterpiece; 2002). There has been no better Chinese vampire films made after the Tsui Hark film (2002) until the present.


For Taiwan, Hello Dracula (Dir. Chung-Hsing Chao; 1986), Hello Dracula 2 (Dir. Shi-Chen Wang; 1987), Hello Dracula 3 (facial designs of vampires in this film resemble The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires; Dir. Yan-Wen Chou; 1988) and King of Children (a.k.a. Hello Dracula 4; Dir. Chun-Liang Chen and Yang-Ming Tsai, 1988). In Dir. Chung-Hsing Chao's another film franchise Child of Peach (starring Hsiao-Lao Lin; 1987), Magic of Spell (1988) and Magic Warriors (Dir. Tso Nam Lee and Yan-Chien Chuang; 1989), even footage from the last battle sequence of The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (UK-Hong Kong, 1974) was directly used occasionally.


Therefore, this film was and still is the essential film production in the history of Chinese genre films. Without it, there would not have been those popular films made in both Hong Kong and Taiwan.


NARRATIVE AND AESTHETICS


FILE PHOTO: A magazine cover design of The House of Hammer. ©Thorpe & Porter
FILE PHOTO: A magazine cover design of The House of Hammer. ©Thorpe & Porter

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