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  Hello Dracula 5: The 3D Army Spooktacular
Year: 1989
Director: Chan Jun-Leung
Stars: Liu Chih-Yu, Chin Tu, Wong Chung-Yue, Sun Jung-Chi, Chan Chung-Yung, Lung Sai-Ga, Chen Tung-Chuen, Chan Chi-Keung, Boon Saam, On On, Lee Yee-Kuen, Lam Kwong-Wing
Genre: Horror, Comedy, Martial Arts, Weirdo, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Ignoring the time-jump from the last film, Hello Dracula 5 restores ghost-busting kung fu heroine Ten-Ten (Liu Chih-Yu) once again to a cute little girl. We open as Ten-Ten and her boy sidekicks Blackie (Chan Chi-Keung) and Dragonfly (Chen Tung-Chuen) win an obstacle course to the evident displeasure of their opponent, On On (On On, playing himself?), son of rival Taoist swordsman On Ping (Wong Chung-Yue). The sore loser accuses them of cheating and swears revenge. That night while cycling through the woods the kids hear what sounds like a child crying. Instead they find a fox caught in a cage and promptly set it free. Whereupon the fox turns into an adorable little ghost girl named Mimi (Lee Yee-Kuen). She sees off On On with her magical powers then introduces the gang to her friend, the just-as-cute Little Vampire. Now firm friends, the children both mortal and otherworldly share fun and games making mischief around town. Meanwhile, in a misguided attempt to avenge the On family's honour, manservant Zhuhai (Chan Chung-Yung) lets loose one of Grandpa's (Chin Tu) vampires. Unfortunately it is a particularly vicious bloodsucker that happens to be sought by On Ping's white-haired, hunchbacked master Elder Hoi (Sun Jung-Chi) as part of his evil scheme.

Uniquely among the Hello Dracula films and Taiwanese children's cinema in general, the fifth entry was presented in 3D. Admittedly several years too late to cash-in on the second wave of 3D movies in Hollywood and two decades before the post-Avatar (2009) revival of the format reached Chinese screens with films like Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (2011) and The Monkey King (2014). Also known as The 3D Army, Hello Dracula 5 confines its 3D effects to a colourful finale wherein Ten-Ten and company fly into a candy-coloured otherworldly realm the other side of Elder Hoi's 'Spirit House.' Basically a glorified dollhouse where he imprisons Mimi and Little Vampire. Here the child heroes battle paper butterflies, giant flowers, creepy living dolls, dancing Peking Opera characters and trippy cel animated effects in a delirious supernatural finale that hits multiple beats: comedy, action and horror. Zombies lunge at the camera to frightening effect particularly, one would imagine, for young kids. The sequence is as surreal and beguiling as the spell-slinging climaxes to more adult-oriented supernatural romps like Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980) or Ghosts Galore (1983).

Chan Jun-Leung assumed directing duties this time around. He brings the same crazed imagination and quirky energy he brought to his other children's fantasies Child of Peach (1987) and Dragonball: The Magic Begins (1991). Unlike haphazard earlier entries the story is much better constructed and has an actual moral to impart about taking responsibility for our mistakes. When On On sees Blackie and Dragonfly wrongfully punished for letting the vampire loose, he steps in and confesses all to Grandpa. Eventually On On joins the Hello Dracula gang and their new-found ghostly pals until his dad grows aghast his son is running around with ghosts. Which one imagines is tantamount to an exterminator discovering his son likes to play with rats. On Ping alerts his evil master who tries to entrap poor Mimi and Little Vampire with his evil spells. However the film injects a little moral complexity. On Ping remains a bad guy until his son is endangered whereupon he risks his life to help the kids escape the Spirit House.

With Grandpa wrongfully imprisoned for most of the film the child heroes provide the main focus, along with the usual cutesy comedy antics, as they fight evil alone. Chan Jun-Leung plays the vampire attacks and sundry other supernatural shenanigans for straight suspense with scenes liable to disturb most children. Possibly influenced by the then-recent success of A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) the plot adds Mimi to the mix. She is an endearing presence in flowing white with magical extendable sleeves a la Joey Wong. Scenes where the children pledge their undying friendship or when Mimi and Little Vampire cower in fear from Elder Hoi's evil magic prove surprisingly moving and prompt the viewer to cheer when Ten-Ten and the little fox spirit fight back with their own magic. Much beloved Taiwanese child star Liu Chih-Yu delivers her most assured performance as Ten-Ten while her co-stars shine throughout the frenzied acrobatic action scenes. Typically for the series the ending is remarkably dark, more suited to a horror film and must have traumatized more than a few Taiwanese kids. Ten-Ten would return for the sixth film in the series: Ling Huan Shao Nu (1992) which would be the last save for a Japanese reboot Hao hao! Jiang Shi Girl Tokyo Denshidai Senki (2012), a vehicle for the girl group 9nine.



Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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