Combat At Heaven Gate (HK 1993)

Rating: **
Review Date: 3/21/02
Cast: Sibelle Hu, Kenneth Tsang

What a confusing and disjointed mess! Two thousand years ago, a famous doctor in China had discovered the cure for all diseases and was wrongly executed by a tyrannical prime minister. Now it's 1932 and several groups of people are trying to find the doctor's original medical books. The three groups represent the interests of China, Japan, and Nazi Germany, and the Japanese uneasily ally themselves with the Germans whenever it works in their favor. The main quest is to find Heaven Gate, which is where the books are rumored to be hidden. A huge fight goes down for the possession of the keys to Heaven Gate, but even without them the Chinese manage to find it first in a true Indiana Jones fashion. Once there we find that General Yu has been guarding the books for the last two thousand years and that Jean (Sibelle Hu) and Kawatomo are reincarnations of the characters who showed up in the prologue of the film. Whatever. After retrieving the medical books, all hell breaks loose and lots of people die. The film ends with a totally baffling and completely unnecessary flashback scene.

The story is marginally interesting and liberally borrows from the "Indiana Jones" trilogy. Unfortunately, it's hard to follow and the execution is laughably bad (although one could argue that it's intentionally campy). The film is peppered with kinetic action sequences, but they're extremely disappointing due to severe undercranking, embarrassing wire work, and heavy use of drop-frame editing (a popular technique used in the 70's). Fortunately, Sibelle Hu and the girl who plays Kawatomo are lots of fun to watch. Ms. Hu is quite charming, and her hair and outfits change in nearly every scene. Actually, I found her spiffy wardrobe to be the highlight of the film. However, the real star of the film is Kawatomo. She's a fierce and feisty fighter, and is one of the few characters who has any real depth. Definitely a mixed bag of kung fu treats.