Jiangshi fiction

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Jiangshi fiction, or goeng-si fiction in Cantonese, is a literary and cinematic genre of horror based on the jiangshi of Chinese folklore, a reanimated corpse controlled by Taoist priests that resembles the zombies and vampires of Western fiction. The genre first appeared in the literature of the Qing Dynasty and the jiangshi film (simplified Chinese: 僵尸片; traditional Chinese: 殭屍片; pinyin: Jiāngshīpiàn) is a staple of the modern Hong Kong film industry. Hong Kong jiangshi films like Mr. Vampire and Encounters of the Spooky Kind follow a formula of mixing horror with comedy and kung fu.

History[edit]

Literature[edit]

Derived from Chinese folklore, jiangshi fiction first appeared in the literature of the Qing Dynasty. The jiangshi is a corpse reanimated by a Taoist priest. The priest commands the jiangshi and directs it to a location for a proper burial. Jiangshi hop as they move and are able to absorb qi, the essence of the living.[1] The ties between jiangshi and vampires, and the English translation of jiangshi as "hopping vampire", may have been a marketing ploy manufactured by Hong Kong studios eager to enter Western markets.[2] Unlike vampires, jiangshi do not drink blood[3] or desire immortality.[4]

Fictional accounts of jiangshi were included in Qing collections of ghost stories and other supernatural tales. They are featured in the story A Corpse's Transmutation (Shibian) in the Shuyiji collection, A Vampiric Demon (Jiangshi gui) and Spraying Water (Penshui) in Pu Songling's Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio,[5] and the The Demonic Corpse (Jiangshi gui) in Dongxuan Zhuren's Shiyiji.[6] In Spraying Water, the animated corpse spews a liquid that kills the wife of a government official and her two servants.[7] A traveler is chased by a jiangshi in A Corpse's Transmutation, which killed three of his companions.[8] There are thirty stories of jiangshi in Zi Bu Yu, written by Yuan Mei.[9] Qing writer Ji Xiaolan provides a detailed description of jiangshi folklore in his book Yuewei Caotang Biji.[10]

Hong Kong cinema[edit]

Sammo Hung directed the jiangshi films Encounters of the Spooky Kind and Mr. Vampire.

A number of monster films were produced before the jiangshi boom of the 1980s and the 1990s. The earliest concerning vampires is Midnight Vampire (午夜殭屍) directed in 1936 by Yeung Kung-Leung. Vampire films were also made in the 1970s,[11] which merged the vampires of Western horror with the martial arts of Hong Kong kung fu films.[12] The jianshi films of the 1980s were a departure from the Dracula-like vampires of its predecessors.[13] Cinematic portrayals of jiangshi show the corpses wearing traditional changshan garments with a talisman placed on its head that allows the Taoist priest to control the cadaver.[14] The tropes expropriated from Western horror were fewer, but still visibly present. The cloak, a motif from Hollywood's adaptations of Dracula, appears in the jianshi films Vampire vs Vampire and A Bite of Love.[15]

Encounters of the Spooky Kind, directed by Sammo Hung in 1980, was the first film based on the jiangshi of Chinese legends and the progenitor of the genre in the Hong Kong film industry. The film is an early example of kung fu horror comedy in Hong Kong and the jiangshi of the film are played by martial artists. A sequel, Encounters of the Spooky Kind II, was directed by Ricky Lau in 1990.[16]

Mr. Vampire, directed by Sammo Hung, was the breakthrough success of the genre. The film established many of the genre's recognizable tropes. The protagonist is a Taoist priest, skilled in casting magical spells and performing kung fu, who uses supernatural powers to control the undead. He is assisted by incompetent sidekicks, whose antics are a source of comic relief, and must face a vengeful ghost.[17]

In later jiangshi films, jiangshi interact and exist alongside Western vampires.[18] In the 1989 film Vampire vs. Vampire, a Taoist priest and childlike jiangshi encounter a British vampire. The jiangshi saves the priest when his spells for taming the jiangshi are fruitless against the vampire. The trope of jiangshi children, an allusion to a similar character in Mr. Vampire II, shows an awareness in jiangshi films of the genre by referencing its past cliches.[19]

Jiangshi films declined in popularity around the mid-1990s.[20] There was a brief resurgence in jiangshi and vampire films during the early 2000s. Tsui Hark produced The Era of Vampires in 2002 and The Twins Effect, directed by Dante Lam and Donnie Yen, was released in 2003.[21] The Era of Vampires was not a comedy like earlier jiangshi films, a move that provoked criticisms from the genre's fans who felt that the film was trying to appeal to a more "Hollywood" demographic.[22] In 2013, Juno Mak made Rigor Mortis as a tribute to earlier series such as Mr. Vampire.

Jiangshi films have attracted an international audience since its heyday. In the West, the genre is popular because it both resembles and is distinct from the monsters of European and American folklore.[23] It is also popular in the Chinese diaspora and in southeast Asia.[24]

Notes and references[edit]

Citations

  1. ^ Stokes 2007, p. 448
  2. ^ Hudson 2009, p. 209
  3. ^ Lam 2009, pp. 46-51
  4. ^ Hudson 2009, p. 208
  5. ^ Chiang 2005, p. 99
  6. ^ Chiang 2005, p. 106
  7. ^ Chiang 2005, pp. 97-98
  8. ^ Chiang 2005, pp. 104-106
  9. ^ Chiang 2005, p. 99
  10. ^ Chiang 2005, pp. 99-100
  11. ^ Stokes 2007, p. 448
  12. ^ Lam 2009, pp. 46-51
  13. ^ Hudson 2009, p. 208
  14. ^ Hudson 2009, p. 216
  15. ^ Hudson 2009, p. 205
  16. ^ Hudson 2009, p. 215
  17. ^ Lam 2009, pp. 46-51
  18. ^ Hudson 2009, p. 218
  19. ^ Hudson 2009, p. 220
  20. ^ Hudson 2009, p. 225
  21. ^ Stokes 2007, p. 449
  22. ^ Hudson 2009, p. 225
  23. ^ Lam 2009, pp. 46-51
  24. ^ Hudson 2009, p. 205

Bibliography

  • Stokes, Lisa Odham (2007). Historical Dictionary of Hong Kong Cinema. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-8108-5520-5. 
  • Hudson, Dale (2009). "Modernity as Crisis: Goeng si and Vampires in Hong Kong Cinema." Draculas, Vampires, and Other Undead Forms. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-8108-6923-3. 
  • Lam, Stephanie (2009). "Hop on Pop: Jiangshi Films in a Transnational Context". CineAction (78): 46–51. 
  • Chiang, Sing-Chen Lydia (2005). Collecting The Self: Body And Identity In Strange Tale Collections Of Late Imperial China. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-14203-9.