Updated: 3 days ago
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 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
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), 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.
Solution: During the final battle between villagers and vampires, Vanessa becomes a vampire and victimises Hsi Ching. Then, Hsi impales both of them with bamboo stakes. On the other hand, the last remaining golden vampire captures Hsi's sister Mai Kwei (played by Taiwanese actress Shih Szu; 1953-) and take her to the vampire temple on the top of the mountain. Leyland arrives and fight the golden vampire. Then, Van Helsing bursts into the temple to kill the vampire at the last moment.
End of ACT3: After Leyland, Mai and two of Hsi's brothers leave, Count Dracula disguising as Kah suddenly reveals himself and assault Van Helsing. In the following fight, Van Helsing successfully stabs him with a silver spear through his heart.
According to the talented American screenwriter of Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981), Mr. J.D. Feigelson (1941-), the Three Act Structure of horror films perfectly follow the simple formula below:
In ACT1, the monster appears. (Set-up)
In ACT2, the monster starts killing people. (Complication)
In ACT3, the protagonist defeats the monster. (Resolution)
Mr. J.D. Feigelson is right that there is a sharp comparison between ACT1 and ACT2.
Furthermore, this also inevitably involves one of grave aesthetic issues which is depth of cinematic expression. Another film maestro Mr. Kiyoshi Kurosawa (1955-) once directly talked about it. The depth of film expression is not a scholastic matter in practice. For instance, if justifying the use of guns in a film, it just needs to insert a scene in which some gun dealer hands over a gun to the leading character. That's it. He used his v-cinema The Revenge: A Visit from Fate (starring Show Aikawa; 1996) as an example. This is exactly about the depth of film expression. Almost automatically the establishment will interpret this as social commentary. In other words, it is recognised as if the gun issue and its entire social context are ''included'' in the film. By contrast, what film critics describe is just about their own imaginal world in their brains not the films themselves as Mr. Tsai Ming-Liang (1957-) often experiences. To put it simply, interpretation of the establishment is in stark contrast to films themselves. Film is only about what audiences seeing on the screen literally.
As analysed above, narrative control always eludes concrete social issues. Instead, the narrative is always about a conflict between protagonist(s) and antagonist(s) in terms of dualism. Therefore, the narrative structure itself is Dasein of narrative control. There is no concrete social issue reflected in the film at all. Some would claim that it is escapism in commercial cinema production. However, systematic elusion of concrete social issues is fundamental for narrative control, and it's not limited in film. In fact, it should be called indifference to social reality as long as it's abstractive.
Social function of narrative control (narrative structure) is to selectively exclude concrete social issues and the real context. Meanwhile, it is also to constantly confine focus and thinking of 'audiences' to the narrative framework (e.g. dualism) in order to serve the ruling class.
In addition, some distinguished creative solutions in this film should be mentioned.
a. Wuxia Film Editing of the 1970s
5 Different-Camera-Setup Modes Change Editing
Before A Better Tomorrow (Dir. John Woo; 1986), Hong Kong's film editing was based on either the UK shooting style or local kung-fu film shooting custom as described by David Chiang Tai-wai here. There is a clear distinction between them. In the UK shooting style, every scene is composed of a master shot (a long take to cover all actions in a scene) and coverage taken by single camera. That is to say, the same action must be repeated and separately shot later in close-ups. According to Sammo Hung (1952-), even Dir. Robert Clouse followed this kind of shooting flow in Hong Kong. Indeed, it doesn't fit Kung-fu films due to disruption to action choreography.
In contrast, local Hong Kong kung-fu films were shot as following. Every ''short'' shot, each camera setup covers a simple action or ''a set of choreographed kung-fu actions'' with single camera without master shots. Thus there must be a joint between different sets of choreographed actions. In general, the cut point is dealt with smash cut or stopping time 'pause'.
Conversely, it also differs from the Japanese-Taiwanese single camera operation in which each camera setup mechanically follows the storyboard even without the concept of coverage. This is academically called ''storyboard-ism'' (Conte-syugi in Japanese) which is still typical in single camera operation in both Japan and Taiwan as a major obstacle to real film editors due to its fatal lack of coverage. Thus, both the UK and HK single camera operational modes are far better than it. Notable figures of this kind of ''storyboard-ism'' are Dir. Mikio Naruse (1905-1969) and Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963).
Another kinds of shooting modes are basically below:
Multiple camera setups dealt with reframing camera movements (long takes) in single camera operation. Plus additional coverage. For reframing, a dolly, crane, drone or Steadicam are traditionally used. For example, Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi (he was not a formalist of sequence shots; 1898-1956), Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (he used varieties of film styles in one film; 1941) and Sean S. Cunningham (in his masterpiece Friday the 13th (1980), he uses this mode to cover the most of actions in one scene; 1941-). So called sequence shot means a shot includes scenes (one sequence) yet this mode of shooting does not only apply on sequence shots. Other modes of shooting can also produce sequence shots.
Another one is that two or more multi-camera setups to simultaneously shoot a scene seamlessly. Additionally, single shots and closeups are dealt with single camera as coverage. For instance, Dir. Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948), Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) and John Woo. For this setup mode, the concept of angle match (axis montage) and action match (including camera movement match) is critically important, otherwise, it still looks like the single camera setup.
Note: Different modes of shooting listed above, although occasionally intertwined, are essentially different in kind.
In general, the use of multi-cameras is only supportive to the major single-camera-setup modes of that era. In The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, there are some multi-camera-setup solutions in sound-stage fighting scenes. There are several reasons for this:
a. To secure continuity within the crowded scene.
b. Dir. Chang Cheh applied the Hong Kong kung-fu film mode of camera setups while Dir. Roy Ward Baker used the UK single-camera-setup mode separately.
c. That scene involves dangerous actions which should not be repeatedly shot for safety of stunts.
d. In a sound stage, it is relatively easier to use multi-cameras than location shooting.
For the analysis, two good instances to explain the multi-camera edits in this film. The first one is from the assault scene in ACT1. A/ B cameras used to shoot this fighting in a sound stage. (Fig.1 to 3)
Another example is from the battle sequence in the cave. A series of choreographed actions of David Chiang Tai-wai were shot by A/B cameras in the sound stage. (See Fig.4 to 6)
Obviously, angles were mismatched among those shots. The Hong Kong kung-fu shooting style of the era was not sophisticated especially on the multi-camera-setup even though it achieved some visual impacts to a certain extent.
b. Staging Monsters
The most creatively influential solution in this film is subjective time in the expositional-flashback sequence in ACT1. It is when Kah the High Priest orders the 7 golden vampires and ghouls to kill the farmer Hsi Tien-en (also played by David Chiang Tai-wai). See Fig.7 to 9.
Several creative factors for this atmospheric sequence must be mentioned. One is the creepy music score of James Bernard (1925-2001), the second is the moody effect of cinematography by John Wilcox (1913-1979) and Roy Ford (1931-2008). The last one is the slow motion made in post-production which perfectly fits the rhythm of walking ghouls.
c. Geographical Imageries - ''Mainland China'' Landscapes
For cinematography, they successfully made location shooting in Hong Kong to create geographical images of mainland China. Many years, audiences thought this film was shot in Guangdong province, consequently it was totally unimaginable that mountain scenes of this film was actually shot in Kowloon Peak (飛鵝山). As the end-credits-roll clearly mentions 'Made entirely on location in Hong Kong'. See Fig.10 to 14.
香港這彈丸之地的平均人口密度世上數一數二。根據研究（註1），高人口密度易令人感覺緊張，增加人與人之間的衝突。這種環境下，象徵個人及家庭唯一自由空間的住屋更具意義亦更有需求（註2）。但現時住宅用地佔香港面積不足一成，房屋供應長期短缺。住屋問題成為近年社會動盪的導火線（註3），亦加深中港矛盾。每當談及公屋、劏房等字眼，人們總把它們和「新移民」掛鈎。有人認為他們在香港房屋政策上被優待。到底新移民在香港住屋方面的情况如何？ [...] 受難以預料的客觀環境及港府對房屋計劃的方向變化影響，2000年代中期以後，隨着居屋和公屋興建量大削和停滯，加上私樓樓價和租金不斷上升，香港房屋問題再次加劇。2006到2016年間，全港住戶「上車」自置資助出售房屋和私樓的比率平均下降了1和3個百分點。租住公屋百分率維持不變，租住私樓的住戶比例升4個百分點。其中，本地出生者和內地出生並擁有香港永久居民身分者的住屋權屬變化基本同步。兩組人士在這10年間居於自置私人房屋以及自置資助出售房屋的比例下降，同時租住公屋和私樓的比率上升。
註1：Kirmeyer, S. L. (1978). Urban density and pathology: A review of research. Environment and Behavior, 10(2), 247-269.
註2：Seamon, D. (2015). A Geography of the Lifeworld (Routledge Revivals): Movement, Rest and Encounter. Routledge. (5)
To look at this another way, Hong Kong does not lack of land while it just only used about 7% of the Hong Kong territorial land for housing. The shortage of houses in Hong Kong is clearly the aftermath of the deliberate concealment and artificial limitation to raise housing prices for oligarchs.
For handling the landscape imageries, the exterior set of the street of Chongqing in the Shaw Brothers studio is also effective however there is a sound mismatch that its surrounding, environmental sounds mistakenly include Cantonese dialogues of local people from the wet market in Hong Kong.
To conclude, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974) is a masterpiece of Dir. Chang Cheh, one of the most influential, essential classical films for Hong Kong cinema and the entire Chinese horror-fantasy action film genre. History knows that this particular creative achievement was even not made by the another wuxia film maestro Dir. King Hu thus it should be seen as Dir. Chang Cheh's one of great contributions to the Chinese film culture.
There is a clear distinction between Western actors and Chinese martial-arts actors in this film. To put it more simply, traditional Western actors reached the limit when they found talented martial-arts actors of Hong Kong enjoying more freedom of cinematic performances. That is to say, Van Helsing is unable to fight the 7 golden vampires solely without local Chinese martial arts masters. In fact, western characters hesitantly became spectators during fighting scenes throughout the film. This indicated that there was still room for further localisation to create own Chinese vampire hunter(s) like Lam Ching-ying.
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974) embodies the historical process of Chinese localisation of western culture even if the film itself is a failure of cross-cultural production (earned HKD 643,405; remember King Hu's A Touch of Zen also only earned HKD 678,320). Thus no one can say that The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974) was a total failure while unfairly claiming A Touch of Zen (1971) as a successful film at the same time. Today's film audiences know that later generations successfully completed the localisation in the 1980s.
FULL MOVIE1 (the original version)
FULL MOVIE2 (the alternative version)
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https://kknews.cc, '70年代香港電影推薦及票房介紹，沒看過那就證明你很年輕（下）', November 18, 2017.
https://zh.wikisource.org, '西遊記：第27回 - 屍魔三戲唐三藏 聖僧恨逐美猴王', the version of May 12, 2018. https://zh.wikisource.org/wiki/西遊記/第027
https://xuewen.cnki.net, '内因是根据，外因是条件，外因通过内因而起作用', accessed on June 18, 2021. https://xuewen.cnki.net/R2006080090000031.html
陳元通、李思名, https://news.mingpao.com, '遷移身分與住屋權屬：探討新移民在香港住屋方面被優待的迷思（文：陳元通、李思名）', June 17, 2021. https://news.mingpao.com/ins/文摘/article/20210617/s00022/1623666152360/遷移身分與住屋權屬-探討新移民在香港住屋方面被優待的迷思（文-陳元通-李思名）
Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to the professional film writer Ryota Nakanishi as author and a link to www.ryotanakanishi.com is provided.
This film article is for the educational purpose only.