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  Hello Dracula 4: King of the Children Ten-Ten cranks up to eleven
Year: 1988
Director: Ulysses Au-Yeung Jun, Chan Jun-Leung
Stars: Lin Hsiao Lan, Chin Tu, Chu Ke-Liang, Liu Chih-Yu, Emily Chu, Chan Chi-Keung, Chen Tung-Chuen, On On, Lee Yee-Kuen, Hong Ching-Yuan, Yu Tian, Wong Sai-Tin, Chan Chun-Yung, Wong Chung-Yue, Tsai Tou, Pang San
Genre: Horror, Comedy, Martial Arts, Weirdo, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Wizard's daughter Chian Lian has a nightmare in which a terrifying Demon snatches her child and kills her husband, Taoist swordsman Tian Wen (Wong Chung-Yue). Unfortunately this nightmare comes true. Well, sort of. Possessed by the Demon, Tian Wen murders his pregnant wife. The old wizard (Chin Tu) subdues the monster by ramming a nine-inch magic spike through its head. While Tian Wen disappears, the wizard manages to save his baby granddaughter who is born with amazing mystical powers. Sharing adventures with grandpa, via clips from the last three Hello Dracula films, little Ten-Ten (Liu Chih-Yu) learns how to absorb a bolt of lightning, knock a raging tiger flat with a telekinetic punch, ride her bicycle up a tree, climb walls like Spider-Woman and, oh yeah, kick serious undead ass. Eventually Ten-Ten grows up with the most remarkable superpower of all, she turns into martial arts fantasy star Lin Hsiao Lan.

The fourth film in the popular Taiwanese children's film series saw a curious reversal of the usual passing of the torch from older to younger lead actor. Instead, after a brief cameo in the opening ten minutes, child star Liu Chih-Yu handed the role of Ten-Ten to perennial lady-in-boy-drag Lin Hsiao Lan, portraying an actual girl for once. These two titans of Taiwanese children's cinema previously shared the screen in Child of Peach (1987) an impressive fantasy also mounted by genre veteran Chan Jun-Leung, here co-directing with Ulysses Au-Yeung Jun. Aside from being one of Taiwan's most acclaimed art-house auteurs, the latter's eclectic filmography also encompassed neo-noir thrillers, soft-core sex films, comedies and chop-socky nonsense. While Lin Hsiao Lan had a strong fan following and was certainly a more accomplished martial artist than the dainty, doll-like Liu Chih-Yu, the latter was so beloved in Taiwan the changeover did not go down too well. Sure enough, Liu Chih-Yu returned as the prepubescent Ten-Ten in the next two sequels and everyone acted like the time-jump never happened.

Nevertheless Hello Dracula 4 is an entertaining entry in the long-running series, provided one has the patience to endure some eye-rolling comedy. Much like the Home Alone films the Hello Dracula series sought to appeal to youngsters by taking grownups down a peg in the most painful way possible. Hence the first half centres on Ten-Ten's encounter with a gang of lovable circus orphans led by accident-prone scam artist Chu Ge (Chu Ke-Liang). Chu's sub-Stephen Chow Sing-Chi routines take up far too much screen time but mild laughs do arise from certain scenes. Such as the children dressing up as vampires in order to spook people into coughing up cash or when Chu concocts a ridiculous sob story to ingratiate himself to Grandpa. It takes a good while for the plot to kick in which happens when a beautiful hotel owner (Emily Chu) discovers Tian Wen hiding in her basement. Each time he sees a full moon he turns into the Demon who flies through the night in search of a Taoist sorcerer to remove that spike from his head, killing all those who fail. Jun-Leung and Au-Yueng Jun play the gothic horror elements deadly straight but interweave them with Benny Hill-style antics at the Dung Sheng Hotel where both a pair of vampire-controlling rogue wizards and arrogant policeman Squad Leader Yu (Yu Tian) try their utmost to bed their beautiful host.

Typical of Asian horror fare from this period the film combines multiple subplots that each have a different tone, veering from children's fantasy, gory horror, bedroom farce, tear-jerking melodrama and breakneck kung fu action. Unlike superior examples of the form (e.g. Mr. Vampire (1985), A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)) it never entirely coheres but is far from dull. The third act amps up the horror and eye-catching visual effects with various characters possessed by the body-hopping demon before grandpa breaks out the huge demon-slayer pentagram, the Little Vampire (Hong Ching-Yuan) makes his crowd-pleasing return to the scene and we get to watch a laser-blasting Lin Hsiao Lan and her squad of ghost-busting kung fu kids take on an entire army of the undead. Once the action finally arrives it is lively and well staged. Child actors Chan Chi-Keung, Chen Tung-Chuen, On On and Lee Yee-Kuan, all veterans of Taiwanese children's cinema, fling themselves enthusiastically into an insane melange of slapstick fu, cel animated laser battles and Scooby-Doo chases. The next entry was Hello Dracula 5: The 3D Army (1989).

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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