88 Films: In The Line of Duty I-IV is a Fully Loaded Girls and Guns Extravaganza! [Unboxing Video + Review]

The In the Line of Duty series which just hit blu-ray thanks to 88 Films, is a prime example of how films were framed back in the day as part of a series to take advantage of an IPs name recognition to sell it to the public. This was a pretty standard practice in Italian genre cinema, but how it’s done in this series is particularly baffling. See, the first two films, Royal Warriors and Yes Madam! Which star Michelle Yeoh weren’t sequels or had any connective tissue in actuality, and while the first film birthed the very popular “Girls with Guns” genre, the second was produced in a rapid succession to then take advantage of the copycats that were already starting to crop up. This was a genre that combined an empowered and usually kung-fu proficient female lead with lots of frantic and very dangerous fights and gun play. Like Jean-Luc Godard once said: “All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun” and given this rather inexpensive formula, and the fact that Yes Madam! was the 21st-highest-grossing film of the year meant there was money and sequels to be made. 

Corey Yuen’s 1985 Yes Madam! or literally translated “Royal Elder Sister”, feels like the most formulaic and fun of the four presented in the set. The film has Yeoh in her first starring vehicle playing Inspector Ng from Hong Kong, who is paired with Scottish investigator Carrie Morris (Cynthia Rothrock). The women are charged to find a microfilm that’s happened into the hands of some petty thieves, one of which is director Tsui Hark in a more comedic light than you’d probably expect. As you’d expect from the genre, the two women from separate worlds have to find a common ground and work together to track down the MacGuffin that continues to allude them. It’s that rapport between Yeoh and Rothrock and their take downs of the men that attempt to hinder their investigation that really makes this film shine however. While it doesn’t have much new to offer narrative-wise, the fights are simply jaw dropping and the film has a fantastic sense of humor. 

One thing to keep in mind with said fights is this was a much different time. Safety was not quite as key or paramount as it is today on film sets, and especially in Hong Kong. The young Yeoh was just starting out. She had originally started out as a ballet dancer, and after getting hurt was discovered and studied martial arts and stunts under Jackie Chan – so she was more than happy to do her own. It’s something that’s highlighted by the clarity of the disc here, how often Michelle, or one of her costars really took a hit, both intentionally or accidentally in a stunt that would never happen today. It’s equally thrilling and terrifying to watch and also makes Yeoh’s triumphant awards season for Everything Everywhere All at Once feel even more earned, I mean when has Jessica Chastain ever had a kung-fu fight on a moving bulldozer or been strapped to the front of a moving car?

This danger doesn’t simply pertain to the fights either, as every stunt is clear as day, thanks to the immaculate transfers presented and all the more dangerous because you can see all the sharp edges. 

Next up was David Chung’s 1986 Royal Warriors, which is clearly the MVP of the set. It’s a film that bleeds neon as it essentially takes the action from the first film, and continuously tries and succeeds at upping the ante. The 80s action fever dream has Yeoh now a completely unrelated character to the first film – but yet another kung-fu expert/cop who after foiling a hijacking and killing the terrorist responsible in the film’s opening, is then tasked with taking out the rest of the gang of terrorists who are also out for revenge for their fallen comrade. Here Michelle is paired with two male cops, one from Hong Kong and one from Japan, and after the Japanese cop’s family is taken out by the terrorists it’s an all out fight to the finish that involves everything from chainsaws to tanks. It somehow fuses the DNA of The Deer Hunter with Supercop in a film that is easily the peak of the series.  

If you want to really scratch your head, in some line-ups this film is actually the first film and Yes Madam! is the follow up, one step farther is that these films were also known as the Police Assassins series in a completely different order in some countries. That said, Yeoh here is simply sublime in Royal Warriors. She’s obviously more confident in the action, and this is accompanied by an equally remarkable performance. While this entry does have some of the comedy of the first film, it primarily consists of Yeoh rebuking advances. The narrative here is really more fueled action and melodrama to keep the gnarly action set pieces coming. These set pieces are gorgeously captured by Ma Chun Wah and Derek Wan who nail that 80s aesthetic that is perfectly preserved here in HD.

Shortly after completing the film Yeoh would go on to marry Dickson Poon who founded D&B Films with Sammo Hung, the company which produced all the entries in this series. She would then “retire” from acting for a few years and that is when the series would change leads and also retroactively add the two films before it as the first and second entry. 

Next up, we finally get the “In the Line of Duty” moniker with In the Line of Duty 3, as well as new lead in Cynthia Khan. She was another newcomer and her stage name was a combination of the series former stars Cynthia Rothrock and Michelle Khan (aka Yeoh). Cynthia was also another former dancer who was injured like Yeoh before pursuing acting. This entry focuses on a Japanese terrorist couple, who share a toxic dymanic most akin to Harley Quinn and the Joker. After robbing a jewelry fashion show (are these even a thing?), the pair flee to Hong Kong to trade their spoils for weapons for their cause. Double crosses are abound as kung fu expert and Detective Rachel Yeung (Khan) tries to track down the couple as the bodies begin to pile up around them. It’s a solid actioner, and Cynthia Khan is a promising addition to the series.

While this entry isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, its definitely the weakest link as Khan struggles to get her footing and keep the audience engaged. 

Finally we have In the Line of Duty IV (1989) closing out the set. This brings back Khan in another disconnected two fisted fighter this time paired with with a very young Donnie Yen as her hot-headed partner, in a film directed by action maestro Yuen Woo-ping. Needless to say this film has some of the most frantic fight sequences in the set as Yen and Khan this time take on the CIA, when a Chinese harbor worker witnesses a murder by a high ranking US official. Yen just bleeds charisma onscreen, opposite a lead who is still struggling to find her way. It’s sad but easy to see why she basically faded into obscurity, while both Yen and Yeoh became international superstars. But the US angle is a weird one as our Hong Kong crimefighters head to the US in the search for justice and offer up a bit of an east versus west subtext. While the story is a bit convoluted for an action flick and takes a hot minute to get up to speed, once it gets going it mostly works and the fight sequences more than keep you engaged.

If I had to rank them it would be:

1. Yes Madam!

2. Royal Warriors

3. In the Line of Duty 4

4. And In the Line of Duty 3, respectfully. 

The films are presented in on the set in HD, with each film getting its own Blu-ray disc paired with both Cantonese and English audio mixes of various channel configurations. The transfers presented are bright, with a good contrast and have appear to have had some DNR applied. Given these were likely little to no budget, the films look probably as good as they are probably going to on Blu-ray. As far as extras the set comes with a perfect bound book filled with essays and interviews, posters, double sided covers, and each film is paired with an exhaustive commentary by Hong Kong Film Expert Frank Djeng. The commentaries while super informative do some times repeat information from film to film. So if you mainline all 4 like I did, you’re likely to get the same info dump for the actor whenever he surfaces. I get that could be because each film can then stand on its own, but his approach sometimes feels a bit too rehearsed compared to the more reactionary and conversational commentaries where someone is reacting to the action on screen. 

So is this set worth your money? The easy answer is yes. Not only are the films all pretty solid here, they hold up rather well on repeated viewings. That being the case, I really had a lot of fun not only watching these films for this review, but also re-watching for the commentaries! They were like their own little deep dive on each entry that left me with both a historical and a canonical context. The first two are classics and the second two, while not in the same league, are still a two-fisted HD blast. While the only thing missing is more from the female leads of both pairs of films, 88 Films does its best through the commentaries and included archival interview with Yeoh to attempt to shed some light wherever possible for fans. While I think alone these films are worth a purchase, the presentation here really sends it over the top with the extras, and the rather extravagant packaging.

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