Yes, Madam! (Corey Yuen, 1985) — July 2, 2015
Royal Warriors (David Chung, 1986) — December 19, 2013
Magnificent Warriors (David Chung, 1987) — December 20, 2013
A self-consciously Hollywood-esque period adventure with Michelle Yeoh as an Indiana Jones-inspired hero who helps a small town (set ostensibly somewhere like Bhutan) resist the Japanese with the help of Richard Ng and Derek Yee. Relentlessly-paced, with a series of show-stopping action scenes (including a mid-film highlight where Yeoh takes on seemingly the whole Japanese Army single-handed), a light touch with the comic elements (a well-modulated performance from Richard Ng, which is something I didn’t think I’d ever see, much as I love the guy) and maybe the prettiest cinematography I’ve seen from an 80s Hong Kong action film (director David Chung was a star DP of the Hong Kong New Wave, and that experience is much more in evidence here than his previous collaboration with Yeoh, Royal Warriors). The only real problem is the score, which features a nice martial trumpet fanfare that gets repeated again and again and again. I can still hear it.
Like Royal Warriors, Magnificent Warriors was shoehorned into the In the Line of Duty series. Despite taking place in an entirely separate time period, it was dubbed Yes, Madam III for its international release.
Added March 20, 2022:
Less a Michelle Yeoh knock off of Indiana Jones than a Michelle Yeoh knock off of The High Road to China.
Like Yes, Madam it has a weirdly bleak happy ending. Producer John Sham explains why, "We built an entire set in Hualien, Taiwan. As the shooting progressed, I couldn't think of an ending. Since the budget was running out and the film was already long enough, I decided to burn the city down."
In the Line of Duty III (Brandy Yuen & Arthur Wong, 1988) — December 20, 2013
Cynthia Khan takes over the lead role in D&B’s series of Girls with Guns movies (this entry is also Yes, Madam 2). She’s smaller than Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock, and doesn’t quite have their electricity, but she fights well despite a propensity for falling off things. This is the weakest of the series I’ve seen so far. It’s plagued with terrible police station scenes both expected (her boss is her uncle and doesn’t want her to get hurt, so he won’t let her try to solve any crimes because she’s a girl) and unexpected (the boss leads his supposedly elite crime fighting unit in a series of inane exercises that seem like rejected sketches from the first half of Michael Hui’s Security Unlimited). On top of that, Khan is barely the main character in her own film, as it’s more the story of a veteran Japanese cop who goes to Hong Kong in pursuit of Japanese Red Army jewel thieves (these villains get the most character development — not only a romance and an ideology, but also a terminal illness!). There are some really good fight scenes, both set in industrial areas (though they still aren’t as great as Yeoh’s fight with a chainsaw in Royal Warriors).
In the Line of Duty 4 (Yuen Woo-ping, 1989) — December 20, 2013
So apparently this is Yes, Madam 4, after In the Line of Duty III was Yes, Madam 2. I don’t know what happened to Yes, Madam 3, I think it was Magnificent Warriors (Royal Warriors being either In the Line of Duty or In the Line of Duty 2, depending on who you ask) even though it came out a year before In the Line of Duty III. Anyway, Cynthia Khan returns (as a different character), playing a Hong Kong cop working with a couple of Seattle cops to capture drug dealers. One of the cops is a very young Donnie Yen, who gets a great cocky introduction and plays a dick for the first half of the movie. The other is Michael Wong, apparently back from the dead after Royal Warriors, again being obnoxious guy, but this time it works better because he’s the bad guy. The first section of the film is ostensibly shot in Seattle, but it’s pretty obviously Vancouver. I guess it had to be Seattle because the plot of the film positions the CIA as the villains, selling drugs to fund their covert activities in Nicaragua, balancing the left/right conspiracy axis after the left-wing Red Army terrorists of In the Line of Duty III. Note that when the final villain gets it, he ends up draped in a giant American flag, albeit one that only has stars on one side.
The great Yuen Woo-ping directs, and as you’d expect the fight scenes are terrific. From a Yakima Canutt/Raiders of the Lost Ark homage with Khan on a truck, to a wild motorcycle chase with Donnie, to a brutal elevator fight between Khan and Blonde Kickboxer Woman to the climactic showdown between Donnie and Black Guy with Muscles. The film is thankfully shorn of ‘girls can’t be cops’ police station scenes, though there is plenty of police brutality (especially from Donnie, who spends the first half of the film beating up Yuen Yat-chor (Woo-ping’s brother and a choreographer himself), who would be his star witness if he’d stop menacing him long enough to listen).
Yes, Madam 5 (Lau Shing, 1996) — March 19, 2016
The last gasp of the Girls with Guns genre, I’m not even going to try to sort out where this fits in the Yes, Madam/In the Line of Duty chronology, but it’s gotta be somewhere near the end (I’m counting at least nine previous films in the series). Cynthia Khan stars (remember for her nom de film someone mashed up Michelle Yeoh’s 80s surname (she was Michelle Khan) with Cynthia Rothrock’s first name) as Inspector Yeung, on the case of a missing floppy disc containing a MacGuffin. The first 30 minutes of the film seem cobbled together from the remnants of a dozen other movies, as if they just shot a bunch of scenes and then figured out what story they wanted to tell halfway through the shoot. Generic in every respect, there’s nonetheless some excellent stunt-work, and the film gets some of the old Heroic Bloodshed electricity as soon as Billy Chow saunters on-screen, dressed in white like a King Hu villain, nonchalantly dispensing evil. The action (choreographed by head villain Philip Ko) is poorly shot and cut by director Lau Shing, falling out of the frame, chopped to pieces, and overly reliant on a single move. It’s an impressive one, but the after first half dozen times Lau shows us a fighter dipping under a kick and acrobatically countering in slow motion, the image loses its effectiveness. Which just goes to show what should be obvious: that it isn’t athleticism of the classic Hong Kong films that makes them great. All the performative skill in the world will go to waste without cinematic craftsmanship.