Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Gui wu xiao jing (1990)

... aka: Haunted House Elf

Directed by:
Chi Lo

Little Chi-Chiang's mother left him (“Let's not mention her anymore. I have no appetite now.”) and his father Huang Wang (Yun-Peng Hsiang) is an irresponsible, usually unemployed drunk who can only afford to feed his boy instant noodles everyday... and he isn't even in college yet! Huang finally tries to change his ways and do better and gets a job helping to fix up an abandoned old home that's rumored to be haunted. Rich businessman Mr. Lee, his wife (Li Huihui), his teenage daughter Ming (Lam Siu-Lau) and his bratty young son Chung all move in while Huang, his boy and his boss get to work renovating the place. Since Chiang used to sneak inside to play with friends, he's already pretty familiar with the layout of the place, knows all about a secret hidden cellar and adds that he's heard strange noises coming from down there and that the home was once owned by mysterious foreigners. The kids naturally become intrigued, especially after finding a book all about conjuring up the living dead. Chung decides he wants to make friends with them, so he follows the instructions of the book, meditates and is soon hearing voices. An impenetrable iron door covered in yellow papers is located in the cellar and, after messing around for a bit, all three kids have a shared dream involving a box and a golden key.

After the dream, Chiang sneaks back over to the Lee house and he, Ming and Chung go down to the cellar, find the box and find the key. Behind the iron door is a bunch of tombs and removing the spell paper from one of them unleashes a little hopping vampire boy named Ting Tong. Ting Ting speaks in a monotone and helps get them out of trouble by making them disappear when the mom shows up to investigate the noises. Because he's so stiff (having been dead for hundreds of years, after all) and can't play with them, Ming puts him through a strenuous sped-up exercise routine that involves aerobics, lifting weights, a rowing machine and a vibrating belt. She then wishes she could be a part of her comic books, so Ting Ting obliges. He shrinks himself, her and Chiang and sucks them all into the comic book.

The comic book fantasy world turns out not to be the joyous playground the kids imagined. As soon as they arrive, Chiang almost drowns and both he and Ming are attacked by snakes. Good thing Ting Ting is around with his magic to levitate the snake off of them, though the poor chimpanzee shown being bitten by one of them (!!) isn't so lucky. Venturing on, they encounter a cannibal tribe about to roast a young princess (“Mmm. Smells good.”) on a spit. A witch doctor (Ma Wu) beats them up with his skull-topped walking stick and then turns into a tiger, which is followed by transformations into a rat, a house cat, a dog and a monkey. They eventually rip his clothes off and he runs away embarrassed. Still desiring to “eat their meat,” the witch doctor then prays to a giant stone snake idol. A bunch of plastic skeletons come out of his mouth, dance around and increase his power. There are animated killer vines, kung fu fights and fights with guns, grenades and a chainsaw, plus more transformations into Count Dracula, a witch on a broom, a “bull king” and even Jesus Christ (!!), prompting one of the children to joyously exclaim “We'll crucify him!” and chase after him. If only it were as good as it sounds.

Back in our world, Mrs. Lee and Chung go down into the cellar and encounter two adult vampires; the parents of Ting Ting. Mrs. Lee attempts to shoot them with a shotgun but they escape into the city. The vampire parents encounter some teen bikers on the road (“These kids are too wild. We must teach them lesson.”) and knock them off their bikes, then terrorize the area looking for their son. This idea and these scenes are clearly a rip off of MR. VAMPIRE II (1986). Mrs. Lee calls up the useless Detective Chu (Te Chi Wang) for help. He and his assistant decide to impersonate Taoist priests to scare off the vamps, but just get themselves beaten up in the process. Will the kids be able to defeat the witch doctor in the comic land and return home in one piece? Will the vamparents be reunited with their bloodless bundle of joy?

Sometimes imaginative and sometimes (usually unintentionally) amusing, this is also cheaply-produced, corny and frequently irritating to sit through, with some pretty groan-worthy attempts at humor. Still, I can see this appealing a lot to fans of weird, inappropriate kid's movies. The constant talk of cannibalizing children and how good their flesh must taste is something that probably wouldn't be warmly received by parents looking for wholesome family entertainment anywhere outside of Asia. There's also a bizarre subplot of Mr. Wang and the married Mrs. Lee (whose husband is away in the U.S. and misses out on all the “fun”) falling for each other that seems completely out of place and ends up going nowhere. Much of the soundtrack was stolen from other movies, including the opening theme from The Shining.

There appears to have only been one VHS release for this in its home country (on the Vidi Video label), but it comes with both Mandarin and English subtitles burnt right in. The subs are sometimes cut off on the sides and whoever poorly-translated the English ones must have been suffering from brain-wave cownwuication.

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