Heaven and Hell
AKA: Killing Out of Hell's Gate, Shaolin Hell Gate, Fight Out of Hell Gate, Heaven and Hell Gate, Heaven & Hell, Hell Gate
Year of release: 1980
Genre: martial arts
Director: Chang Cheh
Action directors: Lu Feng, Robert Tai, Leung Ting
Producer: Run Run Shaw
Writers: Chang Cheh, Ni Kuang, Chou Lang
Cinematography: Kung Mu-To
Editing: Chiang Hsing-Lung
Music: Frankie Chan, Steven Lau
Stars: Li Yi-Min, David Chiang, Maggie Li, Chiang Sheng, Dick Wei, Siu Yuk-Lung, Robert Tai, Alexander Fu Sheng, Jenny Tseng, Johnny Wang Lung-Wei, Lo Meng, Lam Jan-Kei, Phillip Kwok, Kara Hui, Lau Kar-Wing
Not rated; contains IIB-level violence
Movie Review Index
This Lunar New Year release from legendary Shaw Brothers director Chang Cheh sports a large cast with many of the Shaw's biggest stars of the time, including Alexander Fu Sheng and David Chiang, and an inventive storytelling technique seldom seen inside of the old-school kung fu realm. As a whole, however, Heaven and Hell never really fully gels together, making this a picture that shows a lot of promise during portions of its' running time, but never being able to deliver something truly special.
The film is divided into three segments: Heaven, Earth, and Hell. In each, the audience follows Xin Ling (Li Yi-Min) as he goes from being a guard in Heaven to a taxi driver on Earth, and then as he tries to escape from Hell. Each segment has a different flavor to it, and that is where Heaven and Hell begins to stumble. it's an interesting concept, but it ends up making the movie feeling too disjointed, especially the Earth segment, which presented as a sort of kung fu musical, with sets that look like they came from a stage play, and a couple of musical numbers belted out by Jenny Tseng, who was a popular singer in Hong Kong at the time.
This segment, with the fights being more of dance sequences, really kills the momentum of the movie and is incredibly hard to sit through. Of course, that feeling is coming from someone who absolutely abhors the musical genre, but, even so, I would suspect most fans of oldschool kung fu are going to be left either feeling bored by the Earth part of the story, or simply scratching their heads, wondering what the hell they just watched.
Business does pick up with the Hell portion, but matters are still hampered by the typical low budget present in many Shaw Brothers productions. The sets look extremely cheap, and the special effects are really anything but. For example, the effects of cold on people in "Icy Hell" are displayed by showing people swaddled in plastic wrap. If generating true scares was the intent, the film-makers quite obviously missed the mark. Like the film as a whole, there is a lot of potential on display here, but very little of it is actually brought to fruition, making this one of the lesser entries in Chang Cheh's filmography.