Dracula: A Vampyre in Beijing (2018)

Rating: F

Dir: Tim Lies
Star: Liu Xiao Yan, Tim Lies, Hao Yi Bo, Ivy Shan

For our 2023 October feature, we’re going to be doing 31 Days of Vampires, beginning with Nosferatu and hopping from there, around the world and through the decades, covering a variety of different takes on the blood-suckers. To that end, I’ve been casting a wide net looking for possible contenders, and this one popped up on my radar from Tubi. However, a mere 30 seconds in, it was clear I had made a terrible mistake, and its inclusion in the feature was staked, had its head cut off, and buried with garlic in its mouth at a crossroads. A further attempt to watch it for general review purposes lasted little longer. It was clear that this was a Very Special Film and needed Very Special Attention given to it, as the first F grade handed out in over three and a half years, since Cheerleader Chainsaw Chicks.

It begins with a monologue by the heroine, Li Mei (Liu), who speaks. English. As if. She was. Entirely. Unfamiliar. With it. Mind you, whoever was writing her lines appears to be in the same boat: “I have seen horror dream eyes. These are horror eyes I have dreamed about.” This is accompanied, for illustrative purposes, by images of what are presumably “horror dream eyes.” Yeah. I’ve no idea either. She goes on to explain that this is the story of the Changping Mountain vampires. After the credits, accompanied by particularly crappy heavy metal, we are informed it is the first night of the blood moon, and switch to her twenty-first birthday party – or possibly twenty-fifth, since her birthday cake is at odds with the English dialogue on the topic. She’s in a restaurant with her three friends. and gets a gift of a pack of cards with pictures of famous, far better vampires on them.  Her boyfriend, Zhao Guo (Hao), is unimpressed. He’s not alone.

After a short sequence of Li Mei wandering naked round the mountains, more expositional voice-over is required. “My life began here in the Changping Mountains, and all will be on display tomorrow night, thanks to my other home, the Vampyre Theatre website. This website started six years ago, when Joe Andy took his famous ghost shot of a real vampire from another weird dimension of some kind. So, Mr. Joe opened the site and published his photo, which became a worldwide internet sensation. And then, artists and regular people from all over the world added their own works to the site.” Here is the “famous ghost shot of a real vampire.” All I can say is, worldwide internet sensations are not what they used to be. Anyway, she does art of those “horror dream eyes” – basically, cutting holes in vampire movie posters – and has an exhibition coming up.

But first, Dracula and his vampire band are coming from Transylvania to play a concert and “We all can’t wait for our next great experience in horror of this world.” The lead singer/vampire is played by the director Lies, and so naturally Li Mei chips in, “They say the singer is very handsome.” Repeated shots of several women chained to a wall, with paper streamers in lieu of chains, is intercut with wolf eyes, and a vampire sitting up and… pulling faces. I am beginning to get the hang of Lies’s directorial style, which includes arbitrary switches to black and white, gratuitous solarization, pointless filters, and random inserts of upside-down shots for no reason. Add in that the video quality generally looks like something from an eighties camcorder, and the overall effect is deliriously terrible.

The vampire leads the women, who I guess are his brides, through the forest for a bit. Meanwhile, the four friends have a car race to the venue. No information is provided regarding the significance of either. Reaching their destination, the friends pop in their fangs and on their capes – they’re cosplaying as vampires – and head in. But Li Mei is stopped at the door by someone who claims to be her best friend, giving her the cryptic message, “We are mountain people, you will die in the mountain.” Li Mei ghosts her entirely. Maybe random people claiming to be besties and delivering obscure prophecies is a thing in China. Inside the venue, it’s clear that Dracula and his vampire band are not a big draw: the crowd to see them numbers nine. I counted. And most of those probably said they were on the list. Then the headliners take the stage (below), and it’s abundantly clear why nobody turned up.
What follows is almost indescribable. I’m not sure which is worse. The brides giving the worst impersonation of a backing band playing their instruments since Robert Palmer stopped making videos? Or the amazingly weedy lead vocalist, who seems to have strayed in from a community production of Phantom of the Opera, throwing up the horns and reciting bad lyrics like “I’m on the outside looking in/To a world of pain and sin”? You decide… Mei seems to like it very much, to the chagrin of Guo, and wanders off in a trance, before getting in a strange car which pulls up. After a nightmare sequence, involving a slew of horror dream eyes, over a sample of Bela Lugosi chanting “The blood is the life,” Mei wakes up, in her own bed in the mountain village. Wait, what? Was the entire first 30 minutes a product of her subconscious?

The band vampire comes in and, I guess, attacks her. It’s not exactly clear, beyond more face pulling. But the next day, she’s dead, with her mother running, Benny Hill sped-up style, through the village carrying a box. I can only assume people handle grief differently in China. The brides have escaped from their paper chains, much to the chagrin of the hunchback in charge (who is also the band’s merchandise manager, it seems) and scurry around the village. They eventually attack a guy in perhaps the worst wig in cinematic history, and pull his limbs off. This sends them into fits of hysterical laughter. I was laughing hysterically too, at the dime-store effects, and the incoherence of the victim’s final utterance, and I quote:  “I’ll never fear again, park, park a rock.”

Usually, I aim to write about a thousand words for Jim’ll Watch It movies. But this is such a fountain of unmitigated and industrial strength bad, I’ve hit that mark and we’re not even forty minutes into this. Mei’s funeral takes place, a bizarre ceremony involving an AC/DC badge, a poorly done overlay of a black cat, and shouted exhortations such as “I am Eris! I am the God of Chaos! Li Mei didn’t die! I saw the black cat on it!” from her mother, who steals the box containing her ashes and runs off with it. We then move on to the second night of the blood moon: yes, all of the above took place in 24 hours. The hunchback has recaptured the brides, though their number continue to vary randomly between three and five. There’s a shot of Mei’s body lying in the police morgue, thoroughly uncremated, so I guess that box didn’t contain her mortal remains after all. My ignorance of Asian funereal practices is problematic.

She is resurrected through mental telepathy by Dracula, and wanders very slowly, and completely naked, out of the morgue, without anyone noticing. It’s less surprising when you realize the police morgue is, in fact, a random door to which a piece of paper has been taped, with the words “Police Morgue” printed on it in Impact font. Cue more shitty heavy metal, Dracula wandering about the forest in red filter, horror dream eyes, random inserts of sheep, and Mei meandering naked. Really, she may spend more time nude in this, than Mathilda May in Lifeforce. She also manifests to her friends and family wearing a wedding dress (above), an incident which has surprisingly little impact on anyone. 

There’s a memorial service for Mei at her exhibition, attended by…maybe half a dozen people despite her supposed acclaim, and carried out by a remarkably cheerful celebrant who says things like “Let us remember Li Mei for the laughs she brought us.” The gallery owner mentioning the fact nobody knows whether she’s dead or not, merits a round of applause. The brides are a bit annoyed by the fact they’re still having to do a show after Li Mei’s death, but we get what may be the film’s peak moment of WTFness. One of them walks towards the camera, says “I’m the boss here” and flashes her tits, intercut with shots of a stuffed tiger growling. Their performance consists in its entirety of them walking out of the venue, posing briefly like fashion models on the front steps. No wonder the audience for this remains resolutely in single figures.

Her friends figure out the vampire is the same one depicted in the “worldwide internet sensation” photo, and he wanders in and out of his lair, in what I guess is a wartime bomb shelter. Despite the ongoing lack of ticket sales, Dracula’s concert residency continues, on the third night of the blood moon. It consists mostly of him haranguing the audience with a lecture about how “Humans call me the Prince of Darkness, but they live in darkness, slaves to their corporate systems and destined to annihilation,” before crowd-surfing, very carefully, on the single-digit crowd and carrying out an occult ceremony involving some thoroughly unconvincing levitation. There’s a old person in the audience, for no apparent reason, who seems to be sporting the same blond wig as Mr. Limbs-ripped-off, and says things like, “I hate these young people. They look so stupid. And I hate heavy metal music too.”

The police officer (Shan) investigating Li Mei’s death shows up. and tells her friends about the bite0mark on her neck, her blood being sucked out, and her corpse vanishing. She initially suspected them, but after investigation, realizes they are just “addicted to the vampires,” which is a thing that exists in this universe. Dracula happens to show up, doing another spot of vampire vogueing, before vanishing. Everyone chases after him in their car, though it’s completely unclear how they know to go back to the mountains. Regardless, they see the wedding-dress clad Mei pining over her own grave, and follow her back to Dracula’s lair. Guo, who now believes 100% in vampires, gives the cop a silver bullet, even though the concept goes against everything she believes. We know this because she says, “If I do this, I will be denying everything I know to be true. I will deny my China, whom I love, my parents whom I love and who love me more than life itself, and I will deny the honorable code of the police department.”

I must say, the resulting search through the tunnels is a bit unsettling, and I did briefly contemplate the idea of a clash between a Western vampire and Chinese culture being one with potential – just in completely other hands than those of Tim Lies and, ideally, made in a language its performers can speak. However, any such hopes are extinguished by a startlingly poorly-staged climax. They find Dracula about to marry Mei, and the subsequent “battle” – complete with Mei’s mother showing up, still carrying that box – ends in a way that makes no sense at all. With his dying breath, Guo flings open a skylight in the roof of the bomb shelter, and Dracula spontaneously combusts into bad digital flames. Yet daylight has been shown, repeatedly (top), to have had absolutely no impact on him or his brides, up to that point. Mei scoops Dracula’s ashes into the box and wanders off with them. The End.

Despite having just written two thousand words about it, I feel I have not quite done the movie justice. It possesses the kind of delirious, fever dream insanity that only the true depths of bad cinema can capture, where the viewer feels they have gone through a portal into another universe. The lack of logic here is surpassed only by the lack of artistic talent. It’s so terrible, there is not even an IMDb page for it, at the time of writing. The scariest thing is likely that there is an IMDb page for the sequel, Dracula’s Bride of Horror, which again features Tim Lies (now calling himself Tim Lee) as Dracula. Based on the trailer, it looks little better. Though I am pleased to see the wig apparently also returns. Perhaps the hairpiece will eventually strike out on its own to have a solo career. It certainly shows more promise than Lies does.