The Jitters (1989)
WRITER: Screenplay by Jeff McKay and Sonoko Kondo
DIRECTOR: John M. Fasano
STARRING: Sal Viviano as Michael Derrick
Marilyn Tokuda as Alice Lee
James Hong as Tony Yang Sr.
Frank Dietz as Rat
John Quincy Lee as Tony Yang Jr.
Handy Atmadja as Frank Lee
Doug Silberstein as Leech
QUICK CUT: After her uncle passes, Alice tries to have him move on to a better place in accordance with the culture of her people, and trying to deal with the gang that caused his death.
Michael - A well meaning white dude who works elsewhere in the undisclosed city this is set in. He doesn't quite get Chinese culture, but neither do I. He's obviously the audience identification character to bring us along this strange journey.
Alice - Michael's girlfriend, and a longtime resident of Chinatown. She's loyal to her family, but wants to be with Michael, strong willed on her own, and slowly being tugged between the two worlds.
The Yangs - The spiritual guides into the world of the jiangshi. Tony Sr. is a bit of a goofball, and his son is only slightly better. But he's probably spent too much time around dead hopping bodies to really take any of this seriously anymore.
Leech - The head of the local gang. Smart and cunning, and with zero respect for the ways of the people he terrorises.
THE GUTS: Welcome back, Triskelions! Since it's April, and I like to do the odd movies for April, I think it is finally time to take a look at The Jitters. I've had this movie sitting in my 'to Trisk' pile for a goodly number of years, but it always got forgotten or set aside for other stuff.
So what is The Jitters? A movie about Chinese hopping vampires. Which sounds like an absurd concept, and as presented in this here film, it often is. But the jiangshi (Or Gyonsii as this movie calls them) date back quite a ways in Chinese culture. It all started with folklore about trying to transport dead relatives long distances, but with little to no money in some families, priests would be hired to reanimate the corpses, teach them to hop their stiff bodies along their way, and basically lead them back home. ...As you do, I guess.
Somewhere in the course of time, a movie was made that became popular, and sparked a whole subgenre of fiction. Which eventually lead John Fasano, a name some might recognise from Zombie Nightmare or Darkness Falls, to go hey! I wanna bring this to American cinema! And he did, with the Toronto-filmed film, The Jitters.
This intro to the movie's subject matter is a little longer than normal, because I wanted to provide a little context, and because I feel like I'm gonna stumble into being accidentally offensive, when I don't mean to be. Since that was likely, I felt I should do a little extra research and do some legwork on this, so I can at least have an understanding of what I was mocking. So let's get hopping! ...Oh, this is off to a bad start already.
We get things rolling with a trip through Chinatown, and a gang of lowlifes that cause some trouble for a shop owner and his niece, all for want of a Monkeyland game. Uncle Frank shoos them off then he and Alice start cleaning up when her boyfriend arrives.
I do like that, besides the hopping vampires, the bad guys in this movie are a bunch of white guys causing trouble in Chinatown. And a handful of assorted ethnicities in their employ, but the faces of evil are the white gang members.. Far too often, the white guys would be the heroes, even in a movies using Chinese folklore. We still have Michael, or main guy, but this is still a step up from a lot of portrayals.
Frank sends the couple off while he gets to cleaning up the mess, just in time for the Goon Squad to return. Mile and Alice return with the milk, and Frank is so happy to see them, he leaps through his store window to greet them! Wow! That is...oh. No. The gang are the ones that defenestrated and killed him.
Mikey chases them out with a bat, since criminals are a superstitous and cowardly lot, but it's too late for uncle Frank. He's old, and while he kicks a little ass, being flung through a window is not good for your health.
Seriously. This guy, being such a dick, a racist, and an utter tool, and in a gang terrorising the streets and alleyways, while wearing a Batman shirt? He's pretty much a precursor to all the current fandom assholes who don't understand the characters or what they represent, using their symbols to justify their actions.
The goon squad report to their master, Leech, who knows Frank had a major stash in his store, and wants them to return and get it, and the Monkeyland game. Will Johnny finally get his Monkeyland game?? Keep watching to find out!!
Michael tries to use the opportunity to encourage Alice to finally leave the area, and move in with him, so they can start their life together. However, she has become inspired by the death of her uncle, and shall protect the streets of Chinatown as SPIDER-M...wait, no, no, just going to keep running his shop.
David Lo Pan sneaks in with his son after the funeral to swipe Frank's body, and while that's going on, Alice heads back to the store. And so do the thugs, to smash it up some more.
Fortunately, Uncle Frank the vampire arrives to hop in and save the day. And that is a sentence I just wrote. I could almost take this seriously, but every time a jiangshi hops around, the movie dubs in the sound of a wobbling sheet of metal. And it just becomes silly.
There is a bit of comeuppance in the fight when Batdick gets tossed through the window himself. Sadly, he's in better shape and survives. But how many times can Alice replace that window??
But Uncle Frankula is just a reactive creature now, so attacks Alice, until Tony Jr. comes along and slaps a post it note on the jiangshi's forehead.
Michael shows up and tries to explain things, but yeah. Rather than try and make sense of it now, they head over the Exposifucious to try and explain what's going on.
Hot Blonde Biker Chick, which is more than a name than this movie gives her, reports on the ass kicking the boys received to Leech. And tries to tell him that it was caused by *ahem* Count Chinkula. Yeah, not cool movie.
The Yangs try and explain what happened to Frank, and it's played largely for laughs. Which works, because Alice and especially Michael are baffled by all this. Fortunately, Lo Pan's acting ability almost sells the creatures and what's going on...right up until he makes a Chinese food joke about the vampires being hungry an hour later.
Michael, in typical white outlander mode, doesn't really buy any of it, and is pretty disrespectful. In fairness, it IS on the odd side of things. When he yanks off one of the post its to mock the whole thing, he stops laughing when the kidyongsi he revived starts bouncing around. That's what happens if you let them stay up and eat sugary treats before bed.
Fortunately, they stop the kid after a bit of slapstick (Way to sell your already silly presentation!) and the movie spins its wheels for a bit while we gear up for act two. Important plot point: Our heroes are supplied with bamboo sticks so they can blow their breath in another direction, which the jiangshi are drawn to. A whole two feet that way. So, like Jurassic Park. But...dumber.
Since they haven't had enough asskickings already, some of Leech's goons follow everyone to Yang's store, and once everyone leaves, they break in to steal the body because... Um. Reasons?
At least the Chinese guy on the crew is like NOPE this is bad juju, y'all're on your own if you want to tamper in the dead's domain.
But fortunately for the plot, the post it note falls off while they're loading Uncle Frankula into the trunk, because they drive around for far too long stalling for runtime.
Unfortunately, the first person he eats is the one that didn't want to disturb the bodies. That's just not cool, dude. Rat books it out of there, leaving his other pal behind to also get eaten.
Frank Lee (I don't give a damn) takes the scenic route back to the shop, where he is drawn to because it's familiar. Kinda like zombies heading to the mall. But we get shown every inch of Chinatown. Get on with it! You're barely 80 minutes, and that's with all this padding!
Morning comes though, and the Yangs discover they're missing a dead jiangshi, but before they can do anything, Leech and friends show up to get answers.
Uncle Frank finally finds the store, and goes right for Alice, who left the blowing sticks by the door. She tries to hold her breath so the jiangshi is confused about where she is despite being able to reach out and touch someone easily.
Fortunately, Michael walks in and blows around until Alice can slap a post-it note on her uncle's forehead and stop him. Again. I feel like we're stuck in a plot roundabout and can't find the right exit road.
Michael arrives at the Yangs' warehouse, but the gang has left. Tony Jr is in rough shape, and sadly Lo Pan has been killed off camera, and they slap a post it note on him before he starts hopping around like a Chinese jumping bean.
When Mike calls Alice to tell her what's going on, he finds the gang is now over THERE and taking her and Frank. How did they miss each other, passing between stores? Again, we're going in circles.
But we're at least moving towards the final act, as an exchange is set up. Tony Jr. suits up and we get a Chinese magic montage as he prepares his father and the rest of the jiangshi for battle.
The gang kills time until the meet up by making dinner, and Leech does some pottery. I am not joking, not even a bit. But someone interrupts this from becoming Ghost, by banging on the door. It's Chan, back from the dead!
Now, I'm not sure...is he a jiangshi because he died with unfinished business? Or because of the imbalance of evil the gang's presence is causing? Or because he was bitten? The movie is a little unclear on its own rules.
They smack each other around, until Chan accidentally looks in a mirror and freaks out. Rat picks up on it, and uses the reflection to drive the creature back. This causes Chan to spark and sizzle, melt a bit, and peel away his outer layer. This... This does not seem like an improvement. He's angrier, more monstrous, and more powerful.
Sadly, the Chanpire doesn't end the movie right here and now. Despite smacking them around pretty good, he doesn't manage to kill anyone, and they grab more mirrors. This was just more stalling to drag out the plot. Or would be, if we didn't get the mirror plot point. It's interesting that only the bad guys know how to stop the monsters this way.
Finally we get to the exchange, and we do the usual show me the money, show me the girl schtick we've seen time and time again.
They do have a nice twist that works well with the movie though. When they bring out Frankula. Mike says he can't even see his face, how does he know that's really Frank, so Leech removes the post-it note. Ha.
Alice uses the sudden jiangshi distraction to make a run for it, and Yang sends in the Drac Pack to take out the gang members.
So uh, you have a scene of people swinging bats at Chinese people in ceremonial burial garments. Oh, and they're hopping as they fight, with arms outstretched. This is one of the bizarrer moments I've encountered.
While the incidental people fight, Leech and Mikey have a face to face. During this, Leech pulls a gun, Mike smacks it with the briefcase of money, and the wild shot somehow, magically, randomly, hits ONE GUY up on a roof somewhere, who fires a machine gun wildly in the air. Because why not?
After a lot of smacking and hopping, eventually they good guys punched the bad guys more, and the fight is over. Seriously, that's it. They just keep punching people until the sun comes up. We fade cut to the end, no one really dies except the one poor sniper. And the jiangshi hop off into the sunset. I guess the cops will wrap this up?
But at least the movie ends in perfect 80s movie fashion, by giving me an 80s pop rock song about the jiangshi. That makes it worth it.
Video: It would be okay, if it wasn't so murky and dark. It's probably worse than AvP:R, since that was at least sharp and clear when you could cut through the blackness.
Body Count: An okay number of bodies, but anyone we care about survives or is arrested, or dies off camera.
1 - After a long 12 minutes, Mr. Lee buys it in an incidental crime spree.
2 - Chan dies after they steal Frank.
3 - And then Speed gets eaten when he gets left behind
4 - Tony Yang Sr dies from being slapped around
5 - The Chanpire dies again in a gooey mess.
6 - One of Leech's men gets shot accidentally.
7 - Someone had to die in the Great Chinatown Gang Vampire War, right?
Best Corpse: Chanpire wins the award for melting and peeling away in some solid effects.
Blood Type - C-: Below average. There's splats of blood during the too few bites, and then the highlight of a melting Chan.
Sex Appeal: The closest we get is Hot Biker Chick in lingerie.
Drink Up! Every time someone slaps a post it note on a jiangshi's head. I was tempted to say every time one of them hops, but I'm not a monster.
Video Nasties: Possibly the best scene in the movie, the incredible melting Chan!
Movie Review: It's certainly not terrible. The production values leave me a little cold, save for making good use of Chinatown's location. The story is solid enough for what it is, and the direction isn't half bad. But it's just kinda there as a story, and fighting for what sort of tone it wants to strike, at times. Three out of five Monkeyland games.
Entertainment Value: I did rather enjoy this more than I probably should. Yes, it's silly, but in a charming way. You can't take this sort of movie at all seriously, and the movie never really tries, save for a few moments. It knows what it is, and with the help of James Hong, winks knowingly at the audience. It's a fun, campy movie, and take it as such. Three out of five bamboo sticks.