Saturday, April 25, 2020


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: (1) *poor,* (2) *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological*

Often movies that are filmed back-to-back with overlapping stars and crews don’t turn out that well. However, these two Chinese fantasy-films-- centering upon the appeal of a pair of pop-singers known as “the Twins”—don’t entirely conform to that generalization.

The first of the two films, in keeping with its two young (non-related) stars, was titled THE TWINS EFFECT, but for the American market this film was cut, rearranged, and retitled THE VAMPIRE EFFECT. I’ve only seen the reworked version, but thanks to the wonders of Wikipedia, I feel secure about stating that the original was just another routine vampire-and-kuug-fu smorgasbord, just like the recut version.

There’s no doubt that stars Gillian Chung and Charlene Choi are charismatic performers, even though all of their kung-fu is probably indebted to wirework and skilled sttuntpersons. It may not be a surprise that director Donnie Yen and his writers turn in a derivative, barely warmed concoction of vampire-hunting clich├ęs. But since Yen is well-known for his expertise in action-flicks, it’s surprising that the film doesn’t even work well on the kinetic level.

Though the modern world is being secretly menaced by covert clutches of vampires, there’s an equally hidden organization, the Anti-Vampire Federation, that seeks to expunge the bloodsuckers. Thus, when a particular Chinese metropolis is visited by a gang of Euro-vamps, there’s a small group of vamp-killers ready to meet them. One hunter, Lila, is killed in the resulting battle, leaving only two: a guy improbably named Reeve and his sister Helen. Because they’re “short a man,” the Federation sends an extra fighter, a young woman named Gypsy, and though Helen and Gypsy don’t seem to like each other for unstated reasons, the trio seeks to destroy the visiting monsters.

However, the Euro-vamps have come to China in pursuit of a royal refugee, Kazaf, whose blood they want to consume for some big magic ritual. Helen cute-meets Kazaf and a lot of time is consumed with their banal romantic encounters. There’s also the muted suggestion that Reeve and Gypsy may have hooked up, though the script is barely interested in their characters. There’s a toss-off explanation as to how these noble vampire hunters can best super-strong vampires, for the former all imbibe a serum that gives them temporary vampire-like strength. However, the fights look they’re nothin’ but your basic wire-fu.

In a curious development (SPOILER ALERT), Reeve is turned by the vamps and menaces both his girlfriend and his sister. It falls to Helen to extinguish her brother. Yet it all works out very economically, for after Reeve and the other vampires are all dead, the good vamp Kazaf takes Reeve’s place in the group. I found myself wondering if the story might have started out like a brother-incest fantasy that got rewritten for mainstream appeal. But such a reading might be giving this dull chopsocky more credit than it deserves. Particuarly onerous are a couple of allegedly funny cameos by Jackie Chan, wherein he does no stunts but fails to deliver on the humor as well.

A lot of Chinese period-fantasies tend toward being both scattershot in narrative and overburdened with too many ancillary characters. But even though TWINS EFFECT 2 shares many of the stars of the earlier film, this not only avoids the pitfalls of the genre but delivers on all the required elements—romance, humor, action, sense of wonder. Maybe the direction of Corey Yuan made a crucial difference, since even Jackie Chan’s cameo works out pretty well. (He plays a temple-guardian, and for once, plays the part straight, sans his usual schtick.)

In a vaguely medieval fantasy-kingdom, evil Queen Ya Ge has ruled that all men must become the slaves of women, which order the queen enforces with an army of Amazon warriors. In the past, Ya Ge was in love with a young man, but her twin sister Ya Ting pretended to be Ya Ge so that the giiy slept with her instead. Ya Ting’s motive is never really explained very well, but patently the backstory merely serves to explain the role-reversal fantasy. However, Ya Ge is aware that at some point in the past a prophecy appeared on a stone plaque, foretelling that the realm’s future king. “Star of Rex,” would soon overthrow the queen’s regime by claiming the magical sword, perversely named “Excalibur.” The plaque was in the queen’s possession, but it’s been stolen by a rebel group headed up by a fighter with the even more oddball name of “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.”

It would seem that the queen’s a lot older than she looks, since the film’s four protagonists seem to have grown to maturity under the queen’s Amazonian dictates. Spring (Charlene Choi) is a young woman who sells male slaves (mockingly called “Dumbbells”) in the local market. She crosses paths, and has a fight with, Blue Bird (Gillian Chung), but the two make common cause when they decide to go looking for the missing plaque. Spring thinks it’s a map to treasure, but Blue Bird, secretly a spy for the queen, wants to regain the artifact to keep others from learning the prophecy.

In the course of their adventures, the “twins” also forge bonds with two itinerant performers, Blockhead and Charcoal Head, respectively played by Bolin Chen and Jaycee (“son of Jackie”) Chan. Despite the law that puts the ladies in the drivers’ seat, love, the great equalizer, blooms, with the taciturn Blue Bird grooving on Charcoal Head while the more light-hearted Spring favors Blockhead. To be sure, the two guys aren’t as physically impressive as the women, who are both superb fighters with or without weapons, so the guys have to resort to being charming rather than assertive. A further complication ensues when the quarter follow their map to the supposed treasure-room, and eventually discover that the lowly-born Charcoal Head is the “Star of Rex,” destined to defeat Ya Ge.

There’s a great deal of comedy in the film, often playing off the dominant traits of the two fighting females—light-hearted Spring goes into a couple of screaming-fits, while straight-laced Blue Bird must in one scene force herself to smile, resulting in a rictus-like expression worthy of Christina Ricci. However, the adventure-elements take precedence, in that Charcoal Head must step up to defeat Ya Ge’s evil plan to magically transform all men in the realm into women. (And yes, there’s some obvious comedy associated with the villain’s big scheme, but it doesn’t efface the more pertinent need to correct the unjust imbalance of the evil queen’s society.) In fact, without revealing the ending, I’ll note that the queen’s fate also involves bringing her character full circle, so that even her frustrated romantic arc is given a pleasing denouement.

TWINS EFFECT 2 was the debut film for Jackie Chan’s son, and he’s okay in the role, if not any better than any number of similarly skilled actors. Nonetheless, Choi and Chung are the film’s selling-points, and this time they play off one another’s established characters with considerable charm and vigor.

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