Sunday, May 17, 2009

"Diana and the Goong-si"

Hopping vampires - goong-si. Yeah, I love 'em.

Of course I'd like to think there's more to my story "Diana and the Goong-si" than just hopping vampires (like, say, a little comment on the injustices of colonialism, maybe even a bit about feminine empowerment in the 19th century), but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that the idea of a westerner fighting a quintessentially Chinese monster wasn't the chief genesis behind the story.

Although my Chinese friends tell me that these critters have been around eastern culture for a long time, they - like their western counterparts - have been largely defined by their movies. The hopping vampire has probably made almost as many appearances in Hong Kong cinema of the last thirty years as European-style bloodsuckers have in Hollywood movies. It was 1985's superhit Mr. Vampire that really put 'em on the map; although Mr. Vampire is a spectacularly loony film with plenty of laughs (largely provided by Hong Kong comedy superstar Ricky Hui), it's also got some genuinely spooky moments, like when our heroes hold their breath to keep a goong-si from finding them. Mr. Vampire set up most of the basic points of the hopping vampire: That they're dead and can only move by hopping; that they seek out the living to extract their blood; that certain kinds of rice can affect them; and that a knowledgeable priest can control them by placing a written sutra, a sort of prayer, on their foreheads.

Mr. Vampire spawned dozens of sequels, ripoffs and homages (funny how often those two are confused, isn't it?). But one of the most interesting additions to the whole hopping vampire movie cycle came nearly 20 years later, when Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters introduced a new spin to the legend: That a powerful master goong-si could suck your blood without even touching you. This particular film largely dispensed with the humor that's traditionally lightened Hong Kong's hopping vampire movies, and proved that the goong-si could still invoke plenty of fear.

For some reason a couple of years ago I was briefly obsessed with writing fiction about hopping vampires. It hasn't been done much in western fiction; the only appearance that's garnered any real attention, I think, was a guest star bit in Kim Newman's Anno Dracula. I wondered if it was possible to take something that began life as a comic monster from another culture and use it effectively in western genre fiction. I actually wrote two hopping vampire pieces (the other, a story entitled "Mr. Hop in WongTown", should be making its appearance next year). "Diana and the Goong-si" started life as a story in which Dracula's antagonist Van Helsing fought the nasty hoppers, but I eventually realized I was far more interested in a western woman taking the things on. Travel to Canton (now Guangzhou) in Van Helsing's era (the 19th century, in other words) was difficult (even after the Suez canal finally opened and steamships replaced sailing vessels), and it would have taken a woman of rare determination and courage to even make the trip alone. Now take that woman and pit her against hopping vampires, and...

Well, you'll have to read "Diana and the Goong-si" to find out the rest.

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