Combat At Heaven Gate – Raiders Of The Lost Medical Textbook

Country: China
Genre: Action/ Martial Arts/ Fantasy
Director: Yu Chik-Lim
Year: 1993

Rating: ★½☆☆☆


Combat At Heaven Gate is an ultra low budget Mainland Chinese re-imagining of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, with an ancient medical textbook substituting for the Ark Of The Covenant.

How low budget? The picture takes place in the 1940s, but the only vehicles seen are jeeps. The producers didn’t even have the money for a picture car or two.

But still, the first ten minutes of the movie gave me hope.

As our picture opens, the Emperor is having the ultimate migraine headache. In the hopes of diminishing his pain, he has a couple dozen lovely young women pulling on a piece of linen wrapped around his head, tugging from both sides. The stakes are high; if one of the women should stumble while they are tugging on the piece of linen, they will be dragged off and executed as punishment.

A famous physician has been summoned from Yunan province, but arrives late after fending of dozens of swordsmen who are enemies of the Emperor. Does he cure the Emperor? Is he rewarded for his efforts?

I’m not going to tell you because I don’t want to spoil the only entertaining part of Combat At Heaven Gate if you are foolish enough to see it against my advice.

I will say that the opening sequence is fanciful and creative, even charming, despite some less than stellar martial arts choreography.

After we jump ahead to the 1940s, we get more encouragement. The cast includes Sibelle Hu, Kenneth Tsang, Jimmy Lung, and Ho Pak-Kwong, all who have provided me with much pleasurable viewing in the past.

But aside from the non-existent production values, which could be overcome with enough creativity, there are two deal killers.

The first is the absolutely horrendous script. I swear to you, more than 40 minutes is devoted to a competition between three groups over a bunch of keys. The plot complications, in contrast to the ingenious Raiders Of The Lost Ark, are utterly witless.

Which leads me to the second deal breaker. The martial arts choreography by Cheung Chung-Kwai and Chung Chan-Hung is just terrible, in a number of ways. There is a lot of clumsy flying about, but worse, it isn’t integrated into the ground fighting. The sparring looks like sparring instead of combat, no matter how hard you to try to suspend disbelief. And none of it is the slightest bit creative. A lot of the sparring doesn’t even make spatial sense. The martial arts choreographers have no clue as to how to structure a fight. It’s just the pits.

And I haven’t even brought up the incompetent sound and picture editing, or the plodding direction.

Normally, I try to stick with a movie until the bitter end, but an hour into Combat At Heaven Gate, I decided to cut my losses.

Okay, that’s not quite true. I skimmed the rest of the movie, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything exciting. Nope. But I’ll admit that it was gratifying that almost all the characters end up dead, and that they ultimately die for nothing. Yay!

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