I have a love-hate relationship with scary movies.
I hate ghost movies (particularly Japanese/Korean/Thai ghost movies. They’re creepy as hell) but at the same time I love zombie, exorcism and jiangshi movies.
A Jiangshi (殭屍/강시) is a type of Chinese reanimated corpse (kind of like Chinese zombies) that sucks people’s qi (氣/기), their life force. Jiangshi usually hops and are afraid of the light. It’s called jiangshi because jiang (殭) means stiff, and shi (屍) means corpse. Jiangshi Chinese folklores are so popular that they have inspired a whole new genre of horror film in the Mandarin/Cantonese-speaking regions (particularly Hong Kong).
I myself was exposed to jiangshi films at an early age because 1. I lived in Taiwan, and 2. my sister loves jiangshi movies.
I have to say my love-hate relationship with horror films comes from my sister’s influence. Her love for zombie, exorcism and jiangshi movies have brainwashed me into loving these movies as well. (In fact, our movie tastes are so similar a movie rating app calculated that my sister and I have 99% similarity in movie tastes).
Anyhow, since summer time means time to watch scary movies, here are five must-watch jiangshi movies. And trust me. These movies are awesome. They are usually a mixture of horror and comedy films, and incorporate a bit of martial arts and Taoist exorcism rituals. The majority of the jiangshi films are from Hong Kong so the languages are in Cantonese, but subtitles in Chinese, English (and sometimes Korean) are widely available. Also, there are Mandarin-dubbed versions of these movies but I strongly suggest watching the Cantonese version.
Note: some of these movies are really old, so the special effects may not be up to current standards. But the suspense is present nonetheless.
1. 殭屍先生 (1985) – Mr. Vampire
Classic jiangshi film. This is probably the one that led to the breakthrough of jiangshi films in Asia and is my favorite. Majority of the films listed below have recurring characters including this one. Master Kau (九叔), a unibrow Taoist priest, along with his two disciples Man-choi (文才) and Chau-sang (秋生) attempt to kill the jiangshi that’s been killing many villagers. What’s great about this movie is that the movie is set around the time of Early Republic, so the clothing and buildings reflect the gradual introduction of western influence in China. Even though the people are embracing the progressive introduction of Western cultures, elements of the Qing dynasty, notably the deceased wearing Qing dynasty clothing and the old Chinese superstitions, still linger on.
2. 新暫時停止呼吸 (1992) – Mr. Vampire 1992
Another one of my favorite. Jiangshi movies do not have significant differences in terms of basic plot- the three main characters (Master Kau and his disciples) attempt to destroy evil qi-sucking jiangshi. This one is no different. However, I love this movie because of a particularly memorable scene. There’s a scene in this movie where they depict ghost marriage (accompanied with incredibly eerie background music that still haunts me till this day) and it’s just absolutely terrifying. That scene alone should be enough of an incentive for horror movie lovers to watch this movie.
3. 殭屍叔叔 (1988) – Mr. Vampire IV
I love this movie because while it has some of the characters from the original movie, it does not star the three major characters, making it rather refreshing to watch. This movie stars another Taoist priest (who was a minor character in the original Mr. Vampire movie), a monk, and their disciples and their encounters with vicious jiangshi.
4. 一眉道人 (1998) – Vampire vs. Vampire
This movie stars two of the three recurring roles as well as a new disciple. The title is called Vampire vs. Vampire because at the time this movie was released, jiangshi was referred to as vampire for a lack of a better word. Thus, the title actually means Jiangshi vs. Vampire. That’s right. This movie not only has jiangshi, it also has a western vampire. It’s not the best of the best jiangshi films, but the suspense alone helps the audience drive through the entire movie. It’s the suspense that got me enjoying this movie.
5. 殭屍 (2013) – Rigor Mortis
A contemporary version of jiangshi film that pays tribute to the iconic Mr. Vampire series. Rigor Mortis incorporates the songs from Mr. Vampire and stars Chin Siu-Ho, the actor that plays Chau-sang in Mr. Vampire. The movie centers around Chin Siu-Ho, a retired jiangshi movie actor, moving into an old apartment building where supernatural activities start occurring (including bringing deceased back to life). What’s great about this movie is that it ties in classic elements of jiangshi genre films. Various items such as glutenous rice (糯米), one of the key ingredients in ridding jiangshi, and bagua (八卦), a Taoist talisman for jiangshi exorcism, bring back the nostalgia of the old series.
What I did not particularly enjoy about this movie is that as it’s produced by Takashi Shimizu, the creator of Ju-on series, some of the ghosts in this movie look like classic Japanese ghosts. Not only do I hate one of those long-haired pale-skin ghosts in Japanese movies (simply because they freak me out), this particular element makes the movie deviate away from the classic Hong Kong horror film it ought to have been. But still, if you like less of the comedy (this movie has none) and more of the horror, this is the jiangshi movie for you. For me, this movie brought back memories of my sister and me watching jiangshi movies together and my love for jiangshi films.