Before Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, True Blood and of course Twilight took to our big and small screens, audiences mostly thought of vampires as the horrifying image brought vividly to life by the late Sir Christopher Lee as Count Dracula with his bloodshot eyes and scary fangs, rather than the modern, romanticised version with teenage good looks and sculpted six-pack abs that would be a dream to date and make out with. And just as Sir Christopher Lee was memorable as the fanged fiend, so too was Sir Peter Cushing as his arch nemesis Van Helsing, the original slayer before there was Buffy.
The horrors of vampires are of course not limited to the West, i.e. Hollywood. Here in the East, we too have our version, but instead of sharp toothed demons, Eastern vampires known as “jiang shi” (translated as petrified corpses) are hopping Qing Dynasty garbed zombies with outstretched arms. Based on Chinese legends and folklore, these nocturnal creatures might look silly and laughable, but they are certainly not to be underestimated as they kill any living beings in order to absorb their life essence or “qi”. As for their nemesis, ask any Hong Kong film fan and you’re likely to get the same answer – the Taoist priest played by the late Lam Ching Ying, our very own “Van Helsing of the East”.
Starting from the very first Mr. Vampire film in 1985, Lam Ching Ying memorably made the role of Gau Suk the vampire slaying Taoist priest his own and even received his very first nomination as Best Supporting Actor at the 5 th Hong Kong Film Awards that year for the role. Thereafter, he continued reprising the iconic role not only in the many sequels but also numerous spin-offs both on film as well as on TV that followed the film, so much so that it solidified and some would say typecast him as the Taoist priest of all Taoist priests in the cinematic world. So memorable was his legacy that the 2013 film Rigor Mortis that successfully revived the “jiang shi” film genre was proclaimed a tribute to Mr. Vampire film franchise and him.
Besides Lam, this film franchise was also responsible for sky-rocketing the many film careers of Ricky Hui, Chin Siu Ho, Anthony Chan Yau, Wu Ma, Pauline Wong, Loi Fong, amongst many others, who either portrayed Lam’s vampire-fighting disciples, fellow or rival Taoist priests or ghosts in the film series or spin-offs. In fact, Chin and Chan even went on to star in the latest Rigor Mortis, now veterans, coming full circle from their original roles in the 1985 original film.