Gates Of Hell (1995)

Directed by: Otto Chan
Written by: Otto Chan & Ring Law
Producers: Ko Sai-Man & Peter Chan
Starring: Chan Kwok-Bong, Strawberry Yeung, Danton Mew & James Pax

Cop Cheung (Chan Kwok-Bong) proposes to his wife Yin (Strawberry Yeung) and San Francisco is the place chosen for their romantic honeymoon. One night Cheung decides to join a couple of the fellow Hong Kong people on their tour for a night at a strip club. He promptly gets targeted by a hostess who gets him drunk and in the alley he's robbed of his hotel room key. While there's nothing of great, monetary value there, Cheung's wife is snatched and forced into the underground porn industry. A desperate search by Cheung starts which is aided by Siu Fung, a girl who's looking for her uncle as well...

Focusing more on the adults only screwball side of things via movies such as Stooges In Hong Kong and Screwball '94 (both starring James Wong), a turn for the darker for Otto Chan together with leading duo Chan Kwok-Bong and Strawberry Yeung took place in 1995 with Diary Of A Serial Killer and Gates Of Hell at hand here. Quite pleasingly fast paced with no extra narrative-filler as hindrance for us to get to the nastiness of the main plot, it's refreshing to see Chan favouring taking care of beats as quick as he does. Cheung isn't fleshed out as a cop as such (probably more of a rookie), he even finds time to be the social servant by helping people across the street and look, he's got a hot wife to be too. It's sunshine, it's bliss, it's joy... it's quite a suitable atmosphere and narrative structure to an exploitation film that doesn't think it's making art. What Otto Chan wants (as he was also co-writer and believe it or not, co-action director) is good people ending up in bad, ugly, bloody situations. Therefore he's a filmmaker who understands the genre and format... as well as the limitations it can be allowed to come with.

Because San Francisco is as much fun as it is decadent to an almost goofy level. Especially evident in James Pax's opening scene where he as the triad boss of the Chinese side of things (they're in a conflict with the Italians) is practicing his swordsmanship while his Western woman is masturbating to the "manly" stuff on display (he's also a bad guy who listens to classical music and drinks wine... of course). It's expectedly naughty and crude but Chan has a ton of bricks to drop on us when it matters because Gates Of Hell is tough to take. While the flesh on display ends up in the plenty column, it's mostly courtesy of the Western cast and the scene where Strawberry Yeung gets kidnapped is not even followed by the obligatory rape! Forward-thinking. In between Cheung's quest to find his wife, Chan of course opts to show the ugly, violent side to the underground porn industry with bad English language acting aplenty and long sex scenes worthy of the fast forward button (but it's there as padding and commercial juice for the film obviously). Ironically enough, mentioned sex scenes aren't made to look ugly or depressing and almost feels like its own movie but that's why they are deserving of the skip-treatment (also thanks to some awful music, they at the very least deserve the mute-treatment).

What matters cinematically and dramatically is Chan Kwok-Bong's central performance as a desperate man up against the odds. Being quite the dopey, naive guy, Chan projects an affecting aura of sympathy as he has to go through the seedy parts of town to possibly get clues about the whereabouts of his wife. Desperation leads to disappointment as greed and dishonesty is slapped in his face but it also leads to life-altering violence. In an intense 20 minute ending reel, we get the best and worst Gates Of Hell has to offer as it's Chan Kwok-Bong doing his thing against James Pax joined by awfully acted henchmen across the bloody arena. Otto Chan makes sure the effects of violence take center stage and the plight of two young lovers establishes itself as effective because by god, Chan and Yeung look like a sweet couple together. Therefore it's clever to create a story like Gates Of Hell because it's audience friendly, Category III rated material. Engaging, harsh exploitation that is also crude filmmaking still knows where it's going to register favourably and Otto Chan's work does.

The DVD (World Video):

Video: 1.33:1 (cropped from its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio)

Audio: Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0. Both tracks feature English dialogue as well.

Subtitles: English, Chinese (burned in)

Extras: Filmographies (Otto Chan, Chan Kwok-Bong, Strawberry Yeung, James Pax), weblink to World Video's homepage and a promotional trailer reel for other World Video releases (featuring The Shaolin Temple, Kids From Shaolin, Born To Defence, Deadend Of Besiegers, Heores Among Heroes, Naked Killer, The Invincible Fighter, The Green Dragon Inn, The Fatal Flying Guillotine, The Revenger, Story Of The Dragon, The Eight Escorts and Blooded Treasure Fight).

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson