Friday, July 31, 2020

Hobby Mou... o viasmos! (1986)

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Xiao zu zong (1986)

... aka: 小祖宗
... aka: Little Ancestor
... aka: Little Master

Directed by:
Li Kuo Yang

At an archaeological dig in the mountains, a small coffin is unearthed. Markings on the outside reveal that it's from the Ching Dynasty and inside is the body of a young 19th Century prince (Ying-Min Chen). Having died far away from home, the boy's family couldn't haul his corpse all the way back when they left the area and buried it there in the middle of nowhere instead. Also on the coffin is a warning not to remove the casket from the Earth. Oops. As an extra precaution, the team put a spell paper on it just in case the body should resurrect as a hopping vampire as often happens in China. The following morning, the group - led by an old Taoist Teacher Chen (Chun Shih) - pray and respectfully rebury the coffin. However, one cowardly doofus sent to check on it the previous night left the lid wide open and the revived boy prince was able to sneak out. Mr. Chou (I-Chen Ko), a professor who decidedly doesn't get much respect at work nor the advancement he deserves, unknowingly ends up with the body in a crate along with his other findings. When no one is around, the crate explodes, the blue-faced, long-haired vampire prince escapes and follows the professor back home, where it makes some unlikely friends.

Mr. Chou's young son Hsiao-Pao (Kun-Hsuan Huang) finds the stationary boy in his closet. At first, he thinks it's a toy and just closes the door. It isn't until after school that he and some friends; the bespectacled Tah-Siung (Huai-Fei Chu), the crude Hsiaonio and lone girl Wa Wa (Shu-Chen Li), find out the it's actually alive. The vampire boy starts out trying to strangle them but is pacified whenever Hsiao-Pao decides to bow. It may be dead but it's still a royal prince and deserves a formal greeting, after all! They put the vampire, who magically changes his skin tone from blue to an acceptable shade of pallid living human, back in the closet and decide it would be more fun to go play Peeping Tom by spying on Hsiao-Pao's teenage cousin Shinjia (Tsung Hua To) and his girlfriend through their blinds. When the girlfriend pulls away from a kiss, one of the little boys who can't be any older than 6 comments, "She says no, but means yes!" to which his little female friend responds, "Go die!" While they're busy being little sex offenders, the vampire sneaks out of the closet, goes downstairs and uses its powers to screw up the miserable mother's mahjong game by switching tiles before watching a hopping vampire movie preview on TV.

The "Little Master" is scared of sunlight but it's nothing a pair of sunglasses can't cure and soon he's frolicking at the park with his new buddies. Since hopping is his specialty, he demonstrates some fancy jump rope moves and aces hopscotch, then puts away bowl after bowl after bowl of noodles. Then it's off to a basketball game where Shinjia is playing. And if he doesn't do well, his girlfriend warns she'll (gasp!) stop coming over to his place to listen to music. The vampire helps his team win the game, helps the kids with homework and does other helpful things. He also has his own theme song that goes, "White face, red lips. Green fingernails, short legs."

Once Teacher Chen and his moronic assistant, who also happens to be Hsiaonio's father (small world!), discover the coffin is empty, they decide to use magic to try to lure the boy back so they can put him to rest. The assistant gets bitten on the leg during one unsuccessful attempt and the only way for him to keep from turning into a vampire himself is to drink child's urine six times a day for 49 days (!) Soon enough, he's reduced to sitting around in a field watching all the neighborhood boys piss into a tea kettle (!!) After a series of misadventures, the lonely little vampire decides he's had enough. After leaving behind a necklace, he tries to hop away but Hsiao-Pao locates him for a tearful reunion.

The Taoists keep coming after the vamp, so Hsiao-Pao organizes a posse of all of the neighborhood kids to help. They break into a costume shop and paint their faces white in solidarity with their friend to throw off those hunting him down. On their way to returning the boy to the mountains, they scare a fencing class, women at a swimming pool, a bus full of people, a coffin maker and hundreds of children at a camp.

There's dumb bodily function humor (including farting and someone accidentally drinking piss), a surprisingly good score (which was probably stolen from elsewhere), lots of cute kids running around looking like they're having a great time and a bizarre lack of any real special effects in this super low budget production. Swap out the undead kid for the alien and you'll realize this is little more than a hokey rip-off of E.T. (1982) that isn't above blatantly ripping off key moments from that film. This does however manage to generate some cheesy charm at times, the kids are appealing and sincere in their determination and the finale is unexpectedly dramatic. Since the target audience is young children, good messages about friendship, loyalty and accepting differences are thrown in. The parents all suck and basically every adult is portrayed as self-absorbed, quick-to-judge, foolish and ignorant. And therein kind of lies this film's simple charm: The world can be so rotten at times that a small dose of good-natured schmaltz like this is just what you need.

Young male lead Huang, who is quite good here in his film debut, went on to become one of the most acclaimed child actors of the late 80s and early 90s and was even nominated for two Hong Kong Film Awards for his performance in All About Ah-Long (1989) alongside Yun-Fat Chow. As with many other child stars, it seems his career pretty much ended once he hit puberty.

This title has never been released in the U.S. and the only home video releases I'm aware of were in Taiwan and Japan. This is currently online to view with English subtitles through several different channels but the print, taken from an ancient VHS, is pretty bad. Nonetheless, a copy on Youtube current has over 2 million views despite the fact that, as of this writing, this doesn't even have 5 votes on IMDb and is not even listed on Letterboxd.

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