1985 - 1988
“Yes, Madam” (1985)
(D & B Films Co.; Dir. Corey Yuen Kwai)
“Yes Madam” merits a place on any shortlist
of HK action movies due to its influence on the genre. Although Michelle
Yeoh would only fully develop her combative police detective persona in
“Royal Warriors,” “Yes, Madam” was a worthy beginning. Reportedly
resulting from a suggestion by Sammo Hung, the film appears to represent
a calculated compromise. The hard edge of action is softened by an
extensive comedy sub-plot associated with a trio of petty criminals who
inadvertently steal an incriminating piece of microfilm. Dick Wei
plays the principal thug sent to retrieve it.
Despite a fairly pedestrian plot, the film nevertheless
feature some very fine action choreography, with exciting performances
by Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock as police detectives investigating
the murder of a visiting British police officer. Yeoh provides one
of her best appearances, while Rothrock’s martial arts skills are particularly
impressive here. Their screen partnership is quite effective – with
sufficient abrasiveness to sustain interest.
Two of the set-piece action sequences – Yeoh’s
single-handed demolition of a gang of bank robbers, and the extraordinary
stunt work during the extended final fight – are among the classics of
HK action cinema. In between, Yeoh as “Inspector Ng” and Rothrock
as “Inspector Morris” repeatedly clash over police methods, but eventually
close in on the petty thieves and the counterfeiting ring in the background.
In the tradition of many police action films they eventually shed their
badges to seek final justice outside the constraints of the law.
“Royal Warriors” (1986)
(D & B Films Co.; Dir. David Chung Chi-man)
Featuring perhaps Michelle Yeoh’s best contemporary
action role, “Royal Warriors” essentially defined recent HK policewoman
genre films. Yeoh’s physical agility and mastery of action choreography
are on display, and her final fight against a murderous, vengeance-seeking
veteran wielding a chainsaw is electrifying. The talc flies as the
kicks connect. Henry Sanada provides strong dramatic support as a
Japanese detective stranded in HK.
The plot involves “Michelle Yip” (Yeoh) and her
police colleagues thwarting an airline hijacking. Identified as heroes
by the news media, they become the targets of vengeance by a group of military
veterans responsible for the failed hijack. The gang then proceeds
to attack the police officers as individuals, resulting in the death of
relatives and colleagues.
As Yip races to solve the case, she is required
to sidestep unwanted romantic overtures as well as shoot it out with the
gang. Car chases, stunt falls and the final fight are all very well
executed, although the gunplay is not. Other films have treated individual
elements in a more spectacular fashion, but “Royal Warriors” remains an
engaging and influential genre title. Some reviewers have speculated
about influences on action film beyond the confines of the HK industry.
(Molesworth; Dirs. Raymond Leung Pan-hei, Tony
Leung Siu-hung, Ivan Lai Kai-ming)
The surprise hit “Angel” can truly be described
as the progenitor of “Girls With Guns,” and rapidly spawned two direct
sequels. Three relative unknowns – Moon Lee, Elaine Lui and Yukari
Oshima were propelled to prominence in action films by their performances
that for one of the first times cast women in the leading roles as both
heroes and villain. “Angel” was also unusual in that it received
relatively widespread distribution in the European market.
Superficially, the plot bore resemblances to the
“Charlie’s Angels” concept of female undercover crime fighters assigned
to solve especially challenging cases. In “Angel,” Moon Lee and Elaine
Lui would be teamed with Hideki Saijo and Alex Fong. However, the
film departed from formula in several significant ways. For one thing,
the combat is at close quarters with no holds barred. Point-blank
shootings and indifference to the suffering of enemies (one man is used
as a shield for a grenade detonation) helped re-define screen combat roles
for female performers. The other major distinguishing feature is
Yukari Oshima’s “Madam Yeung.” Seemingly emerging from nowhere, Oshima’s
performance is riveting. Although much of her screen time is abruptly
edited, she dominates all her scenes. As the boss of a ruthless drug
cartel, Yeung not only expresses absolute power but also exults in instilling
fear in those around her. Yeung is a sadist who can dress and act
like a normal person, but keeps a private dungeon. The editing only
yields a glimpse of the horrors, but it’s sufficient.
Some of the cinematography is inspired.
As the camera pans from decorative marionettes to Yeung, the symbolism
of control of captive beings is wordlessly evoked. At another point
the camera looks up into her face as she pins down and mocks Alex Fong.
Here, the camera’s viewpoint is almost the eye of the victim. Oshima’s
uncanny physical flexibility allows her to bring her body into positions
of disturbing, controlling intimacy. She is, quite simply, hypnotic
in a relatively small part. A measure of her screen presence is her
ability to exude menace while wearing a bathing suit or simply sitting
eating a solitary meal.
When Yeung’s poppy fields are torched by a law
enforcement task force, she retaliates by ordering police officials assassinated.
The Angels break into Yeung’s corporate offices, eventually tracing her
headquarters. After Alex Fong’s character is captured and held by
Yeung, the Angels mount an assault to rescue him. A complex sub-plot
involving an armored car bullion robbery eventually leads the Angels to
a final showdown with Yeung and her men.
“Angel” may not boast the best production values,
but has certainly endured as a cult classic. High quality prints
are difficult to locate, but are worth the effort.
“Her Vengeance” (1988)
(Dir. Lan Nai-tai)
The acting talent of Pauline Wong and Lam Ching-ying
elevate this straightforward vengeance plot into something unique.
While the action certainly merits attention, it’s the acting and characterization
that distinguish the film. Wong plays an unassuming nightclub employee
in Macao who alienates a gang of drunken men (led by Shing Fui-on).
They tail her after her shift, and mount a gang assault. This is
depicted without gratuitous elements – unlike some of the relatively graphic
violence that follows later. In this sense the film serves as an
antidote to other titles that may linger on such assaults but dispense
Wong’s character portrays both suffering and resilience.
She attempts to enlist the aid of her former brother-in-law (Lam) – an
ex-triad now confined to a wheelchair. A lounge owner in HK, he hires
her as a waiter and finds her a place to live, but refuses to help in her
quest for vengeance. She, however, has other ideas. When a
chance encounter provides access to the first assailant (Shing), she improvises
the first of a series of horrifically graphic acts of vengeance.
The remaining gang members try to neutralize their unknown adversary.
Eventually, they draw in the characters of Wong’s blind sister and ex-brother-in-law
– the former displaying self-sacrificial heroism, the latter some excellent
kung fu in a wheelchair! The final confrontation involves the martial power
of Billy Chow.
In this film the nature and intensity of the violence
go beyond most titles, as does the depravity of most of the male characters’
acts. When Wong’s character finally staggers away from what she’s
done, it seems like a justifiable cleansing. Throughout it all, Wong’s
expressive countenance registers each nuance of pain, disgust and anger.
“In the Line of Duty III” (1988)
(D & B Films Co.; Dirs. Arthur Wong Ngok-tai,
Brandy Yeun Chun-yeung)
Cynthia Khan’s first foray into the police
action genre benefited enormously from the presence of Michiko Nishiwaki
as a Japanese terrorist femme fatale. Nishiwaki simply sizzles, and
almost steals the film. She and her terrorist partner “Nakamura”
(Stuart Ong) perform a spectacularly violent jewelry robbery at a Tokyo
show. Pursued by the partner of a slain detective, the couple flees
to HK, only to discover that the jewels are fake. They then target
the double-crossing designer and the pursuing detective, before finally
turning on the HK police themselves.
Cynthia Khan performs very well as “Madam Yeung,”
the HK police officer assigned to the case, especially during her early
scenes while arresting a street criminal and raiding an illegal weapons
factory. Her later martial arts duels with Dick Wei (as one of the
Japanese terrorists) seem less convincing. Nevertheless, the chases,
shootouts and combats along the way are well filmed and energetically performed.
Only the final fight disappoints, lacking the precision and energy in the
finale of the two preceding titles in the series. Despite this, Yeung
and Nishiwaki develop a visceral animosity that turbocharges the plot.
Neither will leave the other alone, and each pursues the other with a fanaticism
bordering on the irrational. This collision between the seductive
Nishiwaki and straight-laced Yeung may be the most provocatively sensual
element of the entire “In the Line of Duty” series.
Two very brief cameos worth watching for are Sandra
Ng as a police officer and Robin Shou as a bodyguard who leaves the duplicitous
fashion designer to the none-too-tender mercies of Nishiwaki’s and Yung’s
“On the Run” (1988)
(Golden Harvest/Bo Ho Films Co./Mobile Film
Production/Paragon Films; Dir. Alfred Cheung Kin-ting)
This film’s numerous action episodes really
only serve as a context for the superior acting of Pat Ha and Yuen Biao
as their characters’ screen relationship unfolds. When his police
detective ex-wife is shot dead in a restaurant, “Hsiang Ming” (Yuen Biao)
is initially frustrated by the negative impact on his emigration prospects!
After quickly apprehending and overpowering the killer, “Miss Pai” (Pat
Ha), things become even more complicated for Hsiang as he realizes that
she and he are now targets of his erstwhile colleagues – corrupt detectives
seeking to cover evidence of their own drug crimes. Framed for murder,
Hsiang’s options rapidly contract as the killers target his elderly mother
and young daughter. Wounded, Hsiang is forced to rely on the assassin
Pai, who slowly discovers warmth while caring for him and his young daughter.
There is not a shred of false sentiment in this
rather harrowing tale that depicts HK as a claustrophobic place in which
it is hard to truly hide or shake off pursuit. Sparing dialog, deep
shadows and a rather grim exploration of pursuit and paranoia evoke film
noir. Pat Ha is excellent as a quirky contract assassin from Thailand
who superficially seems a 60s throwback in her miniskirt and permed hair.
But she takes no prisoners, drilling numerous bad guys with her semiautomatic
pistol with dispassionate precision. Such coldness contrasts with
her character’s spontaneity and warmth with Hsiang’s little daughter.
The absurdity of such intimacy between a child
and her mother’s killer is rammed home when Pai prompts the girl to play
a rhyming game of head motions. As the girl moves her head just enough,
Pai shoots the man holding her through his head.
After exhausting their resources, Hsiang and Pai
confront the police detectives who have orchestrated the entire affair.
This climax is one of the more protracted and uncomfortable to watch in
the entire genre. Vengeance, in this film, is total.