Film Review: The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (Chang Cheh, 1974) 七金屍 - Between Bruce and Jackie
Updated: Dec 1, 2022
In memory of Dir. Chang Cheh (張徹; 1923-2002) and Mr. Hajime Ishida (石田一; 1956-2014)
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 have 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
Among the major three aspects of human social consciousness, fact, news and narrative control, undoubtedly, film belongs to narrative control like any kind of artistic works and commercial advertisements. Thus, it's originally all about narrative control within the society and produced by ruling classes under capitalism in order to ultimately serve their political and personal interests. They put audiences and the working class people into their pockets. Citizens must realise this social reality.
More importantly, there is no fundamental difference between a film ''made from real event(s)'' and a film ''made from other fictional work(s)''. What is more, narrative and narrative devices can be freely borrowed from other narratives in practice because it's just part of the narrative control. As a result, naturalism and realism in film are totally illusional as narrative control devices of the ruling class.
For example, the seven golden vampires and the film were technically made out of the novel Journey to the West (author Wu Cheng'en; 1592), The White-Bone Sward (Dir. Ling Yun, 1962), The Chinese Boxer (Dir. Jimmy Wang Yu, 1970), Horror of Dracula (Dir. Terence Fisher; 1958) and Seven Samurai (Dir. Akira Kurosawa; 1954).
Particularly, Baigujing was first mentioned as Jiangshi in the novel (1592). It also means that another fictional work, What the Master Would Not Discuss (子不語; author Yuan Mei; 1788) was not the origin of Jiangshi at all.
Moreover, in The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (UK-Hong Kong, 1974), the antagonist Kah the High Priest (played by the Taiwanese actor Chan Shen; 1940-1984) clearly calls the seven golden vampires ''Jiangshi '' - in Mandarin - in the opening sequence in the castle.
A good example of the narrative in this film is that its structure (a comprador tale) embodies political reality to a certain extent. The antagonist ''national traitor'' ''internal force'' Kah the High Priest asks ''external force'' Count Dracula (played by John Forbes-Robertson; 1928-2008) to resurrect ''bandits'' Kah's 7 golden vampires in order to maintain his rule over Chinese rural peasants but Count Dracula just uses Kah as an avatar to ''infiltrate'' Chinese rural community. Then, the protagonist ''Chinese patriot'' a student of Chongqing University Hsi Ching (played by one of Hong Kong Kung-fu stars, David Chiang Tai-wai who is best known for the 1971 wuxia film The New One-Armed Swordsman; 1947-) gets help from a visiting professor ''the legendary vampire hunter'' Abraham Van Helsing (played by the world-famous Hammer Horror Film star Peter Cushing; 1913-1994), a sponsor of the vampire hunt, wealthy widow Vanessa Buren (played by Julie Ege; 1943-2008), son of Van Helsing, Leyland Van Helsing (played by Robin Stewart; 1946-2015) and his martial-arts-trained brothers to liberate their ancestral village from vampires.
Some would jokingly claim that Kah the High Priest violated the national security law of China. More importantly, the narrative structure ''External causes become operative through internal causes'' tells what this film is about (this is why the Dracula sequences should not be removed from the present version). Consequently, this film's narrative structure is not totally ridiculous. At least, it is still better than the most of contemporary films made locally.
Exposition: In Transylvania in 1804, Kah the High Priest (Chan Shen) asks Count Dracula (John Forbes-Robertson) to resurrect Kah's 7 golden vampires for maintaining his rule over Chinese peasants yet Count Dracula simply displaces the body of Kah the High Priest and leaves Europe.
Inciting Incident: In Chongqing, China in 1904, a visiting professor who lectures vampirism at Chongqing University Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) decides to join the anti-vampire crusade of a student, Hsi Ching (David Chiang Tai-wai) who shows him the golden medallion from one of the 7 golden vampires as a proof of the rural vampire legend about his grandfather Hsi Tien-en.
(The fatal narrative flaw of this film is that the time setting logically denied all Van Helsing v Dracula stories between 1804 and 1904 because Dracula had been in China not in Europe after 1804)
End of ACT1: Meanwhile, a wealthy widow Vanessa Buren (Julie Ege) and son of Van Helsing, Leyland Van Helsing (Robin Stewart) are targeted by the local business leader Leung Hon (Wong Han Chan) after Vanessa's refusal to his nasty business offer at the British embassy. Thereafter, Vanessa and Leyland join the anti-vampire journey with kung-fu-trained siblings of Hsi Ching who saved them from Leung Hon's paid assailants.
Complication: Leung Hon and his bandits ambush the protagonist's group during the journey. Then, Hsi Ching and his kung-fu-trained brothers defeat Leung Hon.
Midpoint: On the journey, Van Helsing teaches the group how to kill vampires.
End of ACT2: Three of the six remaining golden vampires ambush the group with a herd of ghouls in a mountain cave near the doomed village at midnight. The group engages in the battle and win. The result is that three golden vampires are killed, and the ghouls retreat.
Climax: The group finally arrives in the doomed village and prepares for the final battle with vampires. Wooden, bamboo stakes are set up as barricades. Trenches are filled with flammable liquid.