In 2022, one of my goals was to watch more Asian films. It’s been really rewarding, as I’ve been able to explore the wildly diverse genres of J-horror, Indian action films, Korean dramas and (most recently) Hong Kong martial arts films.
It’s really good luck that I have a coworker who enjoys films that are pure fun. He provided a recommendation that sounded absolutely up my alley: a Hammer and Shaw Brothers co-production on a vampire/martial arts film. I was just pleased that this movie even exists!
Both studios are iconic in their home country/region and actually share some similarities. For one, neither did many films set in the contemporary era. They instead both preferred historical settings: Hammer favouring the 19th and early 20th century, Shaw Brothers much further back to times such as Ancient China. And yet, it sounds like the entire exercise was a failed experiment. Unfortunately, that’s abundantly clear from the film, which is plenty “okay” but doesn’t deliver something as good as it should have been.
In 1804, a monk visits Castle Dracula. There he begs for the count’s help. The monk is a priest at the Temple of the Seven Golden Vampires. The vampires are slowly losing power, and he needs Dracula’s help to resurrect them. Dracula agrees, but he is unable to leave his castle. So he uses his powers to take over the monk’s body.
A hundred years later, Professor Van Helsing is lecturing at a university in China. He tells the story of seven vampires who raised an arm of the dead to terrorise the locals. Only one farmer managed to kill one of them with an amulet (presumably) blessed by Buddah. None of the professors in his audience seen interested in his tales of an unknown village being terrorised by vampires. All of them walk out bar one – Hsi Ching.
Ching believes Van Helsing’s tales because the village is his ancestral village and the farmer was his grandfather. He asks Van Helsing to go with him to the village and get rid of the vamps for good.
A crew is assembled including Van Helsing’s son, a wealthy Nordic widow and Ching’s seven siblings. They make their way to the village, where they face the (sort of) ultimate showdown between the vampires and Van Helsing’s old foe.
The plot is simple enough, but there’s just something missing in all of it. Not silly enough. Not enough martial arts. Not enough focus on what it’s trying to be. But I will say, the design for the vampires and their undead army was really good. The movie was made in Hong Kong and really benefits from the gorgeous sets and locations.
It wasn’t all too uncommon for films in this era to have different cuts and scenes depending on the market it was being released for. The States was particularly bad at cutting foreign films to bits. Dawn of the Dead, for example, has both a Romero cut AND an Argento cut. For 7 Golden Vampires, there are three known versions of the film: the British one at 90 minutes, a much shorter US version at 75 minutes, and the extended Hong Kong version. For the latter, director Chang Cheh was brought on to film additional martial arts scenes.
Honestly, it’s a bit shocking that no one from Shaw Brothers was on set to help with the initial fight scenes. They’re pretty average-to-messy. It’s really disappointing when you know talent like David Chiang is involved.
That being said, Hammer shows off some of their usual good tricks here. Peter Cushing remains fantastic in his reoccurring role of Van Helsing. The colours are an absolute dream to look at. They reminded me very much of Mario Bava’s 60s work.
The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires wasn’t as good or silly as I wanted it to be. I think that’s the case for everyone involved as well. That being said, I’m sort of desperate to see the extended Hong Kong version.