[This might actually be Hello Dracula 2. Please forgive my ignorance in reviewing this film as the first in the series if it is. Thank you.]
The first in probably the longest running series of fantasy films during Taiwan’s infatuation with the genre during the eighties, Hello Dracula (aka 幽幻道士, Son of Chinese Vampire and Corpse Boy) receives very little attention here in the west, even among cult movie aficionados. It’s generally known only to die-hard kung fu movie fans, and even then, it isn’t widely discussed online, possibly because of the limited availability of both the original film and its sequels. (Granted, I probably just jinxed it and all six movies will end up on edonkey tomorrow morning, and yes, there are six) Of the many jiang-shi (or gyonshi/kyonsi) movies that came in the wake of Mr. Vampire (Ricky Lau, 1985) this is my favorite.
For those not familiar with the “Chinese vampire/zombie” myth, it was once believed that in order for a human spirit to attain peace after death, their corporeal self should be buried in a pleasant place near their hometown. Taoists were charged with transporting corpses to their home towns, where they would be interred, and the myth of reanimated corpses that would hop along behind the magically endowed Taoist was born from this practice. There’s plenty of speculation as to why they’re so often depicted in Manchu style dress and the reasons why they detect people by smelling/feeling their breath, but that’s all rather academic. Look it up on Wikipedia.
Set in what one assumes is the early twentieth century, Hello Dracula begins with a travelling Taoist transporting reanimated corpses through a dark forest and is accosted by a tiny hopping corpse boy. As the Taoist is getting beaten up by the little corpse boy, another Taoist, Grandpa King, is travelling through the same forest with his granddaughter, Ten-ten, his four other young apprentices/assistants, and the corpse of their former master in tow. Grandpa tells his charges that they should keep out of the forest, because the reanimated corpse of a child haunts it. No sooner does he inform them of the child than the other Taoist and the kid-zombie come crashing into his wagon, causing the corpse of Ten-ten’s former master to reanimate. The still living humans basically run away, happy to escape with their lives.
Back in town, the locals are upset by the idea that zombies haunt the surrounding forests, and the military governor of the town, whose elder brother recently died, demands that Grandpa King keep the reanimated corpses under control. Unfortunately, his chubby assistant, Shih Kua Pih, is a bit of a bumbling doof, and causes various problems with his clumsiness. Further complicating the situation is a group of foreigners who want the corpse for some sort of experiment. The poorly translated embedded subtitles don’t make it clear if said experiment is mystical or scientific in nature, as one of the corpse thieves is at least dressed as a Catholic priest, and his female companion a nun. Neither of them acts their respective parts, what with stealing corpses and doing sexy stripteases to distract the patrolling militia men.
The movie rambles between set-pieces. Ten-ten controls the corpses with a cute song-and-dance routine; the kid-zombie plays baseball with himself; there’s a comedy vignette with the male Taoist apprentices fighting over Ten-ten’s approval. It all boils down to a climax in which Ten-ten is captured by her former master’s zombie and the corpses all get lose and run wild over the town. Mayhem ensues and the audience is served a great display of kids doing acrobatics, ritual Taoist magic and kung fu.
Liu Chih-Yu became a huge star in her role as Ten-ten, and director Chiu Ching-hung clearly chose to showcase her. As far as child stars go, she’s quite tolerable. Her male counterpart, the bumbling chubby kid Shih Kua Pih, is played by Liu Chih-han. He looks a bit older than the other kids and does pretty well with the comedy and the limited action scenes. Gam Tiu as Grandpa King pales in comparison to Lam Ching-Ying, but that comparison isn’t fair. He was a veteran Taiwanese actor and it shows in his performance. Boon Saam as the fat militia captain is quite funny.
Hello Dracula was definitely intended as a children’s film, as were many other Taiwanese fantasy movies. However, to a western viewer such as me, the sights of kids playing with corpses and little child-zombies are a bit unnerving, to say nothing of once scene where one child attempts suicide. Similarly, the Chinese attitude towards religion was always a bit different from that of the west. It feels a tad irreverent to watch a Catholic priest stealing corpses, even if he is doing so for the sake of research and is shown in a generally sympathetic light (it’s his boss that provides the white-devil stereotype). Similarly, the movie seems to have no clue that sexually objectifying a nun might offend some Christians -- unlike European nunsploitation films, where the offensiveness is part of the fun -- and one has to wonder where the Catholic priest learned kung fu. Also, animal lovers should know that animals were indeed harmed during the making of the film.
Hello Dracula doesn’t provide the same mix of comedy, effective horror, strange fantasy and brutal stunts seen in the more popular Mr. Vampire, but it does provide an extensive degree of light-hearted cheer for a movie filled with violent death and hopping Chinese zombies. Chiu Chung-hing also directed Magic of Spell, the sequel to Child of Peach, as well as serving as action director for films like The Miracle Fighters (Yuen Woo-Ping, 1982). Certainly one of the driving factors in Chinese language fantasy/martial arts films, he’s rather underappreciated.
The only other film I’ve been able to see in this series is 3-D Army (Chan Jun-Leung, 1989) which isn’t really an official entry. It’s a pity that these movies don’t even blip on the radar in the West. When watching a movie like Hello Dracula or Thrilling Sword, it isn’t fair to expect anything. These are, after all, movies made for children on the other side of the world in the primitive 80’s. Like most of the others I’ve reviewed, I would probably watch it with my own kids, if I had any. But with somebody else’s? No. Hell, no.
And no, the title doesn't make any more sense after having watched the movie.