Ling Huan Shao Nu (Wang Cheng, 1992)

As mentioned in my review of Drunken Dragon, I review things out of order. In keeping with the season, I’m watching horror movies, or at least horror-tinged movies. And as much as I would love to write an overview of the whole Hello Dracula film series, I can neither find the movies nor information about them in English and even the Chinese Wikipedia page is, perhaps understandably, less than comprehensive.

The Hello Dracula films are Taiwanese, jiang-shi (hopping vampire) themed children’s films. Taiwan’s film industry produced a gaggle of fantasy movies in the eighties, of which Hello Dracula is one of the best, in part because it is one of the oddest, and one of the least appropriate for its intended juvenile audience by western standards. Ling Huan Shao Nu (灵幻少女) is the final film in the series. The movie I previously reviewed, I believe, is the second, although I reviewed it under the impression that it was the first. There are six films starring Liu Chih-Yu as Ten-Ten and Gam Tiu as her grandfather, and another film (3-D Army) with a different actress playing the part of Ten-Ten.
Ling Huan Shao Nu opens with Ten-Ten chasing her grandfather, who has abruptly left, into the woods, where hopping jiang-shi vampires accost her to the iconic theme of John Carpenter’s Halloween (this will not be the last time that it plays, nor the only bit of music pilfered from a western film). Ten-Ten wakes up, suddenly, accidently punching her adopted sister Yuan-Yuan in both eyes. Grandpa dispatched Yuan-Yuan to bring Ten-Ten to the altar, where they, and fellow disciple Ah-Tsun, will pay homage to their deceased elder. Cue goofy dance routine – a staple of the series – here.
Grandpa charges Ah-Tsun with clean-up duty after the ceremony finishes, but Ah-Tsun decides that he will practice his Daoist magic instead. He lets a spirit loose which makes a bigger mess than what he initially had to clean. Ten-Ten helps him contain the spirit, and Yuan-Yuan tattles on them, and then leaves them to clean the mess up themselves.
Ten-Ten and Ah-Tsun plot revenge using an out-of-body spell that allows Ah-Tsun to possess the body of the visiting Mr. Chen to torment Yuan-Yuan. If you are wondering if this is headed anywhere, the answer is no. After punishing Yuan-Yuan for telling on them, it’s off to Mr. Chen’s home, where a malign spirit haunts the Chen family. Using the same out-of-body magic to confront the ghost, Ah-Tsun gets separated from the battle. And while Ten-Ten and her Grandpa fight the evil ghost, Ah-Tsun meets Orchid, the ghost of a beautiful young girl who wants to reunite with her lover in the afterlife, but is betrothed against her will to the King of Ghosts. Ten-Ten, Ah-Tsun, and Grandpa then beat up the King of Ghosts, saving Orchid from an eternally unhappy marriage.
With the Chen family safe and the King of Ghosts out of the picture, Ten-Ten and Ah-Tsun try to help Orchid, who, having missed her opportunity to reincarnate, is destined to wander the earth as a lonely ghost. Ten-Ten uses Daoist soul-transference to send Orchid on her way. What this means, I have no clue. But it apparently awakens Grandpa’s old nemesis and fellow student Jomoro. Jomoro plans to kill Grandpa and Ten-Ten, but Grandpa uses the last of his magic to teleport Ten-Ten away before he dies, with Ah-Tsun’s soul transferred into the body of a turtle and Yuan-Yuan killed in battle -- nobody bothered to transfer her soul into a barely sentient animal. And then the Daoist family's home explodes, and the credits start to play.
 Like the other movie in the series that I have actually seen, the goofy comedy slowly descends into bloody morbidity by the end of Ling Huan Shao Nu, and the worst part is that there is no resolution to the conflict. This was the last film in the series released. But unlike the previous movies, which had clear indicators of a temporal setting (such as the Republican army troopers led by Boon Saam), Ling Huan Shao Nu seems completely unconcerned with verisimilitude or internal consistency. The jiang-shi vampires only appear in the opening dream sequence and the ghosts and evil spirits Ten-Ten fights wear costuming straight out of Tsui Hark at his nuttiest.
It is that lack of concern with not only believability, but historical and mythic precedent that makes Ling Huan Shao Nu quite fun to watch. Rather than jiang-shi, the Daoist team has to fight horse riding ghosts in suspiciously European armor and skull faced villains and ambiguously gendered warlocks. Cheesy special effects fly all over the place, the young lady who plays Orchid seems to channel Joey Wang as she flutters about on wires, and the actor who plays Ah-Tsun wears a vest of exploding fire-crackers as punishment for tormenting a procession of ghosts. He walks away without a scratch, much less a second degree burn.
And if the final film moves at an even more break-neck pace than its predecessor, it’s also easier to follow. And thanks to the cast being older, it’s also less unsettling when they handle dead bodies or flirt whilst surrounded by dead bodies. But even so, the final scene is so bloody that I cannot comprehend what sort of kid could watch this movie without scarring his or her psyche. And that too is kind of what makes Ling Huan Shao Nu fun. It presents the macabre as a joke, but that last scene is kinda horrifying.

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