Site Features
- Asian Film Awards
- Site Recommendations

- Reader Poll Results

- The Sponsor Page
- The FAQ Page
support this site by shopping at
Click to visit
Asian Blu-ray discs at
Heaven in the Dark

Jacky Cheung and Karena Lam in Heaven in the Dark.
Chinese: 暗色天堂
Year: 2015
Director: Yuen Kim-Wai
Producer: Albert Lee, Daniel Yu
Writer: Yuen Kim-Wai, Candace Chong (original play "French Kiss")
Cast: Jacky Cheung Hok-Yau, Karena Lam Ka-Yan, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Law Lan, Wong Hei, Edmond So Chi-Wai, Tyson Chak Hoi-Tai, GC Goo Bi, Catherine Chau, Michelle Wai, Chu Pak-Him, Rosa Maria Velasco, Dayo Wong Chi-Wah, James Li Cheuk-Man, Winston Yeh
The Skinny: Stageplay-based morality drama features complex themes, as well as solid performances from Jacky Cheung and Karena Lam, but is undone by uneven character focus and lacking direction. Probably better when it was a play.
by Kozo:

Director Yuen Kim-Wai’s Heaven in the Dark is based on a stageplay, and it totally shows. Candace Chong’s French Kiss is the basis for this murky morality play, and the film version retains the talky drama and limited settings of its inspiration along with, more positively, its topical subject matter and emotionally-charged situations. While dealing with morals and justice, the film doesn’t entirely pick sides, leading to plenty of fodder for discussion, dissection or outright condemnation – if the latter is your thing. All the above does not make Heaven in the Dark a great film but it’s a relevant and complex work that possesses food for thought. Hey, you can’t say that about all movies.

Heaven in the Dark opens at a party attended by businessman Marco Tol (Jacky Cheung), a former pastor who left the Christian faith after harrowing events involving former employee and friend Michelle Chan (Karena Lam). Coincidentally or not, Michelle and her husband Paul (Chu Pak-Him) are attending the same party, and after some awkward small talk, Paul basically forces Michelle and Marco into a room where she can confront him over “the incident.” If the two fell out over some drunken texts that would be fine, but given the real reasons for the Marco-Michelle split – which culminated in a public trial and plenty of shaming – Paul’s insistence seems incredibly creepy. No matter, the film soon continues without Paul and his awful meddling.

Marco doesn’t want to rehash old times with Michelle, but he and the audience are forced to thanks to the magic of flashback. Some years back, Marco was a charismatic pastor at The Church of Truth, where Michelle went to rapturously listen to his sermons. At the same time, Michelle worked for Marco’s NGO, where his charisma was matched by a controlling ambition. Marco had designs on being bigger than Hong Kong – think the next Ban Ki-Moon – but he was as tempted by women as they were by him. To separate his professional and personal life, Marco had an unofficial rule that nobody from his office could attend his church. But it’s a rule that Michelle openly broke.

Marco let her break his rule, however, and their professional and personal relationship grew relentlessly towards the notorious “incident.” Heaven in the Dark takes a long time building up to the incident’s reveal – obviously what happened between the two is a big deal, but is the truth of the matter in Michelle’s or Marco’s recollection? Actually, it’s both. Even though both characters have sides to the story, this isn’t Rashomon. There’s an actual, indisputable truth to the particulars of the incident that – while perhaps not the version that made it to the courtroom – is one that the audience eventually learns. As we come to discover, both characters did “bad” things but both also had reason to do so. Then the question becomes: Whose reasons were better or more morally correct?

Uncertain. Where you fall on the issue of who is at greater fault may depend more on your personal politics than anything objective. The film isn’t helpful because it's uneven in how it presents each character. For example, one of Marco’s friends (So Chi-Wai) references Marco’s past exploits with women – obviously a no-no for a working pastor – while the courtroom trial offers hearsay about Michelle’s past amorous problems with father figures. Marco’s attorney Francis (a superb Anthony Wong) brands Michelle as an emotional manipulator, but unlike Marco’s flaws – which are corroborated by one of his friends – Michelle’s sins remain only accusations. If we’re meant to gleam more about Michelle we’ll have to do it intuitively from the performances.

Karena Lam obliges here, though again the result is uneven. Lam is compelling in the flashbacks as the willing, possibly damaged believer who warms to Marco, but in the present her religious conviction makes her seem unhinged and potentially delusional. Conversely, Jacky Cheung makes Marco Tol identifiable thanks to his struggles with his conscience, and when asked to give a speech or sermon he knocks the role out of the park. Despite Marco’s transgressions – and he does do something pretty lousy – he still comes off as an OK if tremendously flawed human being who’ll confront his issues. Michelle doesn’t face her mistakes, so who do you think comes off looking better when the curtain falls?

Perhaps better direction could have fixed these issues. Heaven in the Dark retains the stage quality of French Kiss, with long swathes of dialogue written for actors to loudly project. Yuen Kim-Wai occasionally lets his actors carry scenes silently but the dialogue could have benefitted from further trimming, and better editing could have reduced the sometimes uninterrupted talk, talk, talk. Yuen doesn’t take advantage of the film format to create tension through editing or camerawork, and instead uses it for pretentious stylistic touches. Also, while art direction and costuming are fine, cinematography is wholly unengaging. Heaven in the Dark is still a worthy visit for its subject matter and the discussion it engenders, but its filmmaking does not warrant the same attention – that is, unless the discussion is how not to adapt a stageplay. In that case, Heaven in the Dark offers a bit more. (Kozo, 3/2016)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Vicol Entertainment Ltd. (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc
Find this at

back to top Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen