A gunned down narcotics agent is given a second lease on life when he’s brought back from the dead as a near-indestructible cyborg. Robot Warrior’s first mission? To rescue Sophie, an undercover agent who’s been captured by the henchmen of Mr. Young, a notorious drug lord who’s newest plan for drug smuggling is to enslave a bunch of vampires to guard his heroin shipments.
Vampires….sure….seems perfectly logical.
Or at least that’s what all the official film synopsis say. In reality, Robo Vampire’s plot is an indiscernible mess, thanks in part to director, Godfrey Ho (credited here as Joe Livingstone). Ho is a notoriously prolific Hong Kong director and is often referred to as the “Ed Wood” of Hong Kong cinema, thanks in part to his many infamously bad projects that have since gone on to become cult favorites, with Robo Vampire recently shooting to the top of viewers favorite lists of his films that doesn’t include “Ninja” in the title. If one is looking for an example of just how he garnered such a reputation, one need not look any further than this short gif….
Yup. That about sums it up.
One of Ho’s favorite pastimes (he retired sometime in 2000) was cutting up various unused or little known Asian films and splicing them together to form full-length features. How much work was done by his own crew and how much was swiped footage, we’ll likely never know, but it was pretty obvious to me early on, without even having to look it up, that Ho’s slicing and dicing was used in Robo Vampire. How can you tell? Well because there are two clearly defined plots going on in the film and none of the actors from Plot A ever intermingle with the characters from Plot B, for starters. And for everyone else the cincher should come in at the end, when Sophie, supposedly Robo Dude’s whole mission objective, is broken out of the hoosegow not by the cyborg, but by a bunch of guerilla guys that show up randomly about halfway through the film. In fact, Metalhead doesn’t even come close to finding Sophie. I’m not sure he’s even in the same time zone. He spends most of his time plodding through the forest or getting blown up on beaches.
Or, more accurately, having his tin foil stunt double get blown up on the beach.
And before you ask, no, dissecting the movie into it’s two clearly defined parts does not, in fact, make it any more coherent. The whole main plot of the film still involves a drug lord who’s using a corrupted Taoist monk to control a bunch of vampires in order to protect his drug shipments. The vampires are not vampires, and are clearly zombies. The zombies get around by hopping. The main zombie is called the Vampire Beast, I assume because he’s the only one of the legion of undead forced to wear a gorilla mask. Mr. Vampire Beast’s name is Peter (sure it is) and he attacks by shooting sparklers out of his hands. Peter’s girlfriend is a witch. Or, more accurately I guess, was a witch, cause she’s dead now too. So now she’s a Ghost Witch. And she’s none too happy with the Taoist priest for keeping them apart. Because how dare he deny their eternal love for one another and all they wanted to do was get married and it shouldn’t matter if they’re from different parts of the world and now she has to kick Priest Man’s ass, but she won’t if he promises to marry them and sacrament their unholy undead love, and at this point, gentle reader, I hope you see where I’m going with this, cause this is pretty much how all the dialogue in the film goes and is the point of the movie where I maybe-kinda-sorta started to zone out, because, dear god, what a kerfuffle.
Hell, even the priest couldn’t take her yammering.
And the dumb as hell plot doesn’t even begin to touch upon how cheap this whole movie looks. Our robo/cyborg friend doesn’t look anything close to the image used on the poster. No, that was just an attempt to make people think the film was somehow related to RoboCop. Instead he looks like some middle schooler’s attempt at a Shredder costume covered in mylar. The zombie/vampires fare marginally better. But while at least their costumes may look fairly decent, their makeup often looks like someone threw some painted plaster-of-paris on their faces and called it a day. It makes the Vampire Beast’s random-ass gorilla mask look high-tech and classy by comparison. And that’s not even considering their bizarre movement.
A quick deep dive into Asian folklore reveals that our zombie/vampire friends are actually based on the Chinese legend of the Jiangshi, or “hopping zombie/vampire,” and though their description of “vampire” is used in the loosest sense of the term, their design and movement are actually pretty faithful to their original descriptions. Their unfortunate skin condition is due to mold, their ‘hopping’ is due to stiff joints, and because their joints are stiff they keep their arms up in front of them as a sort of balancing effect. Does knowing any of this in any way make their appearance any less ridiculous? Absolutely not. Because no matter how accurate they may be, they still look cheap and there is no way to make their constant hopping anything other than goofy looking. The only time they don’t look totally goofy is when they have them doing random somersaults in the air, but that just begs the question, “if they have that kind of movement capability why they hell are they still jumping around like jack rabbits?”
Then, as if the film needed anything more against it, the rest of the production values are also pretty shitty to boot. What little there is of the acting is cringy, the dubbing is horrendous, and if any scene is happening at night it’s so dark and poorly lit that you’d best just give up all hope of being able to tell what’s going on. Hell, the picture quality is so bad that oftentimes it’s hard enough to tell what’s going on during day shots. Not that you’ll necessarily want to see what’s going on during the day. People die with their tongues hanging out, stunt doubles are used that look nothing like the original actor (Sophie miraculously turns into a grey-haired man and then back again when she jumps out of a window), and dummies are used liberally during falling and explosion scenes. I think the only thing this film really spent money on were the pyrotechnics, and even then I think 90% of their budget went towards buying industrial pallets full of sparklers and cheap bottle rockets.
Pew, pew, pew…
He clearly adheres to the highest standards of his profession.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the production was so cheap they couldn’t even purchase a blond wig.
I can see why Robo Vampire has received it’s infamous cult status. It’s bad. It looks horribly cheap, the plot is nonsensical, the acting is horrible, the dubbing is somehow worse than the acting, and to top it all off the title lies to you by suggesting that the robot is a vampire. It’s not. Those fibbing bastards. But at the same time it’s not so bad that it’s not unwatchable. The whole thing is so ridiculous that it actually makes it more watchable, if only for the sake of wondering what lame stunt or insanely stupid move the movie will pull next. It’s dumb, but I think it knows it’s kinda dumb. I mean, it has to. None of it makes a lick of sense. So if you’re the kind of person who likes watching dumb movies, or train wrecks, then Robo Vampire is the film for you.
Robo Vampire is available to stream on Amazon and Tubi TV.
It is also available on DVD.