Stroppy teenager Butterfly (Ren Tanaka) would rather be back in hip, happening Tokyo than stuck in a boring Taiwanese town with her herbalist father (Ren Osugi). After arguing with dad, Butterfly and her break-dancing friends spend the night in an abandoned Taoist temple, where creepy statues seem to watch their every move and a falling signpost knocks our heroine out cold. She somehow awakens in feudal Taiwan, which she initially mistakes for a movie set. After stumbling into the middle of a bank robbery, Butterfly meets Master Crane - a Taoist sorcerer who uses a pair of reanimated “hopping vampires” to stage hauntings and scam local rich folks out of money. Also in search of Master Crane are heroic bandits Hai-sheng (Chen Po-lin) and Doggy (Jimmy Hung, son of superstar actor/director Sammo Hung), who need to raise enough money to save their flood-damaged hometown. Butterfly is instantly smitten with the handsome Hai-sheng, but has no idea she has a double in the form of cape-swishing, black masked heroine Green Wine (also Ren Tanaka).
This Japanese-Taiwanese co-production pays tribute to Hong Kong hopping vampire movies of the Eighties like Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980), The Dead and the Deadly (1983) and most famously, Mr. Vampire (1985) and its sequels which enjoyed huge success across Asia. Sadly, for the most part, Tripping is a case where the right ingredients are there but assembled in haphazard fashion. Writer-director Chen Yi-Wen serves up a shapeless story that is often confusing and which he seemingly made up as he went along. It is not without its charms: likeable leads Ren Tanaka and Chen Po-lin share a winning chemistry, and re-teamed for acclaimed drama Waiting in the Dark, while a handful of gags hit their mark. Butterfly proves a tough cookie who can handle herself and, surprisingly, takes time travel in her stride. She is the flirty sexual aggressor in the relationship where old fashioned boy Hai-sheng is flustered and awkward.
In a conceit lifted from The Wizard of Oz (1939), a few characters from the “real” world have doppelgangers in the feudal era fantasyland. However, masked heroine Green Wine pops nonsensically in and out of the story, slaying demons and righting wrongs as part of a mystery that is never explained. Alongside a frankly pointless, blink-and-you’ll-miss him cameo from genre veteran Wu Ma, the rapping Taoist swordsman from A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), the film includes the usual doses of bizarre supernatural lore. Here, virgin’s urine is the ideal cure for vampire bites, which forces Hai-sheng into an awkward confession before he pees all over poor Doggy’s face! Also included is a lively CG demonstration of how to subdue vampires using acupuncture.
It is a shame Chen Yi-Wen could not do a better job mimicking the breathless pace of those Hong Kong supernatural classics, since the film stumbles along in awkward fashion and takes an abnormally long time both in bringing the heroes together and establishing a villain to bring the plot into focus. That villain is the ironically named Pure-Heart, an evil sorcerer seeking the other half of a powerful jade amulet that child princess Lila passes on to Hai-sheng. Again, this plot twist comes out of nowhere but adds much needed zest so the third act proves genuinely exciting. Our heroes battle a rampaging CG demon that hops from one human host to another, while the film neatly switches from these events to the modern day where Butterfly’s dad struggles to revive her using his own Taoist tricks. Even so, a strangely listless score from Kamio Kenichi almost saps the energy from Nicky Li Chung Li’s otherwise capably crafted action scenes. Butterfly’s adventure seemingly enables her to look at Taiwan with renewed affection, but though the ending is agreeably bittersweet the film still ranks as a missed opportunity.