The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires
Review by Mike Finkelstein
Despite the previous to movies taking place in the "modern era" (for the 1970s, anyway), this movie starts off back in classic era of Hammer Dracula films. We see a Chinese monk making his way towards Dracula's castle, despite the evil that flows from its walls. At the castle, the monk, Kah (Shen Chan), pleads for Dracula's aid in restoring the 7 Golden Vampires. Kah serves these undead monsters and he needs Dracula's assistance in restoring their power. Dracula, being Dracula, pulls a dick move: he agrees the vampires should be restored, but as his minions. He then takes Kah's form (killing the monk in the process) ans travels to China to start his new evil plan.
Cut to China where we meet up with Professor Lawrence Van Helsing. The good professor is in the Far East with his son on a teaching tour, spreading the word of the scientific study of vampires. Although most of the people in China do not believe the stories Van Helsing tells, one man, Hsi Ching, knows the truth. He speaks to Van Helsing about the 7 Golden Vampires, presenting proof of their existence. Together they agree to venture out, with Ching's Kung Fu fighting siblings, to find the golden vampires and put an end their reign of terror over the land. Oh yeah, and Dracula shows up eventually, too.
Of all the Hammer Dracula movies produced, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires certainly stands out as a clear oddity from the rest of the pack. A co-production between Hammer Films (UK) and Shaw Brothers Studio (Hong Kong), the film certainly feels like a mash-up of the kinds of movies both produced, equal parts talky period-piece and Kung Fu action flick, 7 Golden Vampires never quite hits its stride as either kind of movie, but it does manage to find it's own goofy middle ground.
To begin with, yes this is a vampire movie where, often for no real reason, people will suddenly come out of the woodwork to Kung Fu fight. Walking down the street? Let's stop for a bit of fisticuffs. Out in the prairies? Maybe we should Kung Fu fight some bandits. It's strange for the first half, but once the vampires start showing up and everyone is doing ninja battle it at least makes a certain amount of sense.
Which, speaking on the vampires, the movie does not skimp of the undead. More than just the 7 Golden Vampires for which the film is titled, there are tons of the undead throughout the second half of the movie. Dracula apparently had plenty of time to set up an army of the undead because vampire just start appearing everywhere in droves. It does give the movie some frenetic actions sequences, to be sure, so those looking for lots of Kung Fu fights featuring vampires will not be disappointed.
Sadly, not everything works so well in The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. For starters, only two of the ninja warriors that Van Helsing teams up have any kind of real personality: Ching and his sister Mai Kwei. All the other Kung Fu brothers are just there to fight, and while they do that well it's hard to care when they start dying off because we never really get to know them. Not that the characters we do learn about matter much -- especially galling when Peter Cushing is in the film and he barely has anything to do. Once we get into the second half of the movie, Van Helsing mostly just stands back and watches the action.
Well, at least until the final confrontation with Dracula. As per Hammer norm the final fight with Dracula is short and rather anti-climactic. Plus, the fact that Dracula is weirdly grafted onto the movie, showing up at the beginning and the end, just makes for a weird narrative for the whole film. It would have been better if this film were like the second "Dracula", Brides of Dracula, featuring just Van Helsing and ditching the dark lord altogether.
Whatever the case though, whatever narrative problems the movie has, for most people coming into this movie all they need to know is that there is Kung Fu fighting vampires. If that's all you want to see you won't be disappointed. Dracula fans, though, may be relieved that this was the last of the vampire's films Hammer produced. It's not a high note to go out on, but it is quirky without being a complete train wreck.
And, really, that's an accomplishment all on its own. "Kung Fu fighting vampires as told by Hammer films" -- that should be a trainwreck and yet the fact that it works at all is amazing.