A star studded cast in a very odd movie from the Chang Cheh
morgoth | omaha, NE | 08/26/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The story starts out in Heaven and David Chiang is on the run with a woman he loves. Lee I Min plays Xin Ling and is sent to capture David Chiang. He decides to let Chiang go and the Queen of Heaven kills Xin Ling and sends him to Earth as a punishment. He is reincarnated as a taxi driver.
When the movie goes to Earth the story is about Alexander Fu Sheng and his girlfriend played by his real life girlfriend Jenny Tseng. Jenny is currently being held by force by a gangster played by Kong Do. This movie is sort of like a musical and actors will just start singing. While Alexander and Jenny are singing a triumphant song, Kong Do is hiring Johnny Wang Lung Wei to kill Alexander and kidnap Jenny. Xin Ling (Lee I Min) is driving them in his taxi and dies saving them.
Now the story shifts to Hell and Xin Ling gets in all sorts of trouble after he arrives. It gets very boring as they go over all the different chambers of Hell. It is interesting at times, but goes on for way too long. Xin Ling keeps getting sent to a different type of torture and and keeps fighting his way out. This finally ends when the Buddha of Mercy shows up and gives Xin Ling a mission. He is sent to the City of Lost Souls to find 4 people so that they can team up to fight their way out. I don't know one of the actors names, but the other 3 are played by Lo Meng, Sun Chien and Phillip Kwok (also known as Kuo Chui). After Xin Ling finds these 4 people the Buddha of Mercy sits them all down and they talk about how they died in their past lives. This is the highlight of the movie. In Phillip Kwok's flashback he has a magnificent sword fight with Lu Feng. Lo Meng has a short fight, Sun Chien briefly gets to show off his kicks, and the 4th guy has a short fight against a bunch of people when he goes to take revenge for his father. After the flashbacks they have to fight their way out of Hell by killing the people that killed them in their past lives. The fights at the end are good. Robert Tai was still with Chang Cheh when this was made and you can see a lot of his artistic touches in the choreography. And I liked how there is no undercranking whatsoever. That is very rare.
At the start of the movie a lot of the scenes are done on a huge stage. It is more like watching a play than watching a movie. Alexander Fu Sheng busts out some awesome moves, and his opponents seem like they are dancing around him instead of fighting. It is hard to explain, but Fu Sheng's fight scenes are really weird. I enjoyed it.
The best thing about this movie is seeing the Venoms crew in action. I think I named all of the most well known actors that are in the movie, but there are plenty of other recognizeable faces, including Chiang Sheng, Dick Wei and a very young Kara Hui. After this was made the Shaws were not too thrilled about it and decided they weren't going to release it. They actually started production in 1975 and then it was pushed aside for a later date. They started filming again in 1976 but had to postpone it again. The movie finally finished in 1978 but they still decided not to release it. Finally in 1980 the Shaw Brothers decided that it was time for the world to see one of Chang Cheh's strangest movies. But it didn't matter when Heaven and Hell came out, it was destined to fail. The only reason to watch this is to see the Venoms in action and to see all the weird stuff going on. This is one of those movies that I like to watch with a 6-pack of Killians. The story is all over the place and never gets you glued to the screen, but at least the fights are worth watching.
Picture quality on the Image DVD is good. The original Mandarin audio is perfect. Subtitles are very well written.
Chang Cheh makes a musical...sort of
Michael W. Jaworski | Fairfield, NJ USA | 07/09/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"OK, I love Shaw Bros., the Venoms & the maestro, the late Chang Cheh, and I kinda like this movie as well. However, I'll be the first one to admit that it's not his best, and it's not for everyone. The Shaw brothers themselves weren't too crazy about it either, the production started in 1976 and kept getting postponed until 1978. Then it wasn't released until 1980.
With close to a hundred films to his credit, he wanted an avant-garde musical thrown into his filmography. Alright, so it doesn't look like it was made by MGM, and the special FX are prehistoric, but ya gotta admire his creativity. Besides, what makes this work for me is the fu. Whether it's Li Yi-min, David Chiang & Chiang Sheng duking it out in "heaven", the late Fu Sheng going fist-to-fist with Johnny Wang, Kuo Chui battling blade-to-blade with Lu Feng (one of the highlights) or the Venoms fighting their way out of "hades", Robert Tai, Liang Ting & Lu Feng deliver the goods in the choreography department. Kudos to them for making some awkward scenes work (for me at least) like when Fu Sheng takes on a gang of thugs (look for Lau Kar-Wing) to protect his wife (his real-life wife Jenny Tseng).
In any case, Image Entertainment does a wonderful job restoring this movie; crisp widescreen picture, re-mastered audio & subtitles. Look, it's like this; if you're familiar with the Shaws & a fan of the late, great Chang Cheh, watch it with an open-mind, and you'll probably like it. If not, then why the "hades" are you reading my review for?"
It's a little more Heaven than it is Hell, but...
D. Wilson | NY by way of Cali | 12/19/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"... the movie is still a trainwreck, but it's a fairly enjoyable trainwreck that follows different characters on their journey through Heaven, Earth, and Hell. Fellow reviewer Morgoth already wrote a great review but I figured I would add my 2 cents(this IS America right?). Heaven And Hell is a bizarre offering from legendary director Chang Cheh (The One-Armed Swordsman, Five Deadly Venoms)that nearly defies category(and should be noted helped introduce the Venom Mob). Featuring martial arts, adrogynous characters(think David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust), torture(including the "Hell of being skinned alive!"), revenge, musical numbers, demons, and more then a few unintentional laughs, Heaven And Hell is a memorable viewing experience if nothing else. The film is broken into 3 segments, the first about Heaven(pretty lame), the next about Earth(filmed completely like a play and featuring props rather than actual backgrounds, dancing fight choreography, and singing?! Everybody will feel diferently about this section...), and the final taking place in Hell(by far the longest segment and easily most enjoyable in my opinion... contains the most fighting too). The movie feels like 3 completely different, and unfinished, productions were cut and pasted together so the results end up being a little mixed(especially with the fight choreography). This won't be for everybody(not even for all martial arts or Shaw Bros. fans), but for those in the mood for a different kind of movie or interested in seeing a filmmaker attempt something unique and creative, this is probably worth a watch(now whether he was successful in his attempt is up to you... truly a question of trash or treasure?)."