Robo Vampire (1988)

Directed by: Joe Livingstone
Written by: William Palmer
Producer: Tomas Tang
Starring: Robin Mackay, Nian Watts, Harry Myles, Joe Browne, Sun Chien, Suen Kwok-Ming, Ernest Mauser, Kong Do & Sorapong Chatri


Taking you into the mad visionaries at Filmark International that, just like Joseph Lai's IFD Films & Arts, provided the insatiable 80s action market with ninja movies made up of footage shot with Western actors and coupled with acquired action property originally made in the likes Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines. Headed by Tomas Tang, once an associate of Joseph Lai's and in-house director Godfrey Ho (who DIDN'T direct at Filmark. Don't believe the internet) before IFD were formed, Tang set up his own company and started buying properties for distribution (The Challenge Of The Lady Ninja being one example). Tang eventually, just like Lai did, started mixing and matching, cutting and pasting once there was market potential for ninja action movies as well, putting a Western face to the mish mash of new footage and older celluloid from across Asia. Tomas Tang also pursued other interests and trends such as the hopping vampire craze popularized by the success of Mr. Vampire. Clearly feeling a free for all mad fusion of horror, martial arts AND sci-fi for their 1988 production Robo Vampire was needed, it's business as usual as Tang and company sourced the Thai action movie ผ่าโลกันต์ (PHA LO KAN) (1*) starring superstar Sorapong Chatri (a familiar face for followers of Joseph Lai's and Tomas Tang's productions as his vehicles were often the source movies). But it's also not business as usual as ผ่าโลกันต์ is barely used at all because in an unusual move (IFD did it maybe once), Robo Vampire is about 70% of Filmark's own in house madness with only sprinkles of the Thai movie edited into the hopping/robo vampire drug fueled insanity on display here.

On the hunt by anti-drug agents, a gang of caucasian heroin smugglers (led by Ernest Mauser) enlists the help of a Taoist priest (Suen Kwok-Ming) to both create hopping vampire warriors but they're also to be used as a tool of smuggling drugs. The dopes (Kong Do and Sun Chien) hired to assist the priest accidentally resurrects the vampires including one half of former couple which prompts the ghost Christine to haunt the surroundings and crave the help of the priest to marry the diseased lovers in exchange for help in battling former cop Tom Wilde now turned robot warrior. Meanwhile in ผ่าโลกันต์ , Sorapong Chatri's character is hired to break out agents out of the clutches of a Golden Triangle drug lord...

Robo Vampire wants a lot and gets to feature it all seemingly. Which is a fantastic positive because we're glad to see Filmark themselves carry the product because our older Thai movie doesn't aim for this outrageousness at all as it's fairly typical, low budget action effort with a decent pyrotechnics budget and superstar Sorapong Chatri carrying the action hero mantle dependently. But the star is the genre mismatch here and for what it's worth despite this being obvious (fun) bottom of the barrell filmmaking, Tomas Tang produces an energetic, mad hopping vampire action flick that embraces and skillfully provides low-rent (emphasize low) fun. It contains market potential. Tang threw all he could at the market.

While it's no Mr. Vampire in execution, the atmosphere and action set pieces show decent energy with wire work and editing of standard we'd come to expect of the movies that followed in the wake of its success. You have to remember, a Hong Kong crew worked on this and changing rules such as the hopping vampires now roaming free at daytime and often looking more like zombies out of Lucio Fulci movie must've amused Tang to no end. Ironically this energy for once almost corresponds to the lively poster art (the production design doesn't however, more on that below) IFD and Filmark always were apt at putting together and Robo Vampire was something they believed in. In the fun. Something that the artist realized too.

Robo Vampire also wisely doesn't spend a whole lot of time on explaining the in's and out's of this world. A Taoist priest can be hired by heroin smugglers and the technology to quickly revive a good cop and turn him into a crappy looking RoboCop inclusion (in intent as it looks nothing like the inspired creation from Paul Verhoeven's film). It's a case of knowing what you're in for and going with it and Filmark shows it believes and can deliver infectious fun. All of this without cutting to its until very late (and featuring it more extensively in the latter reels) and while the cutting to the older footage and back to new reveals difference in filmstock, Filmark have taken better care in editing together the movies for this one, even showcasing convincing conversations between the movies at points and trying to match environments. It helps immensely of course that ผ่าโลกันต์ features Western actors as well so the switch isn't very jarring but simply more boring compared to following the flimsy looking robo warrior in more of a silver suit made of cloth than metal (sound effects and stiff movements try and save Tang's bacon on that one).

But Robo Vampire ultimately has energy, it doesn't dwell on lack of logic or explanation but does take time and even care before shooting out this low budget concoction into the world. To boot, despite being an awfully busy movie plot-wise, it's nearly coherent too which is a major win for these movies. It's all idiotic fun created by a company and crew being very self-aware of fun, market potential and their inner child that just wants to have fun and can recognize fun even on a shoestring budget. The key word is the f-word.


reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson


(1) Thanks to Jesus Pérez Molina for identifying the movie and check out his blog post on Robo Vampire here.