ROYAL WARRIORS is a pretty good 1986 Michelle Yeoh vehicle directed by David Chung (cinematographer of ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA) with action choreography by Hoi Mang (YES, MADAM!, NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER).
Michelle, called Michelle Khan at the time, plays Michelle Yip, who at the beginning is visiting Japan and enjoying one of those things where Japanese youths dress up rockabilly style and dance in the street. She happens to be in the way watching a guy play barrels as drums when some gangsters come by chasing a fleeing kid. So when she sees what’s happening she goes after them, stickfighting, climbing on statues and kung fu-ing them before she whips out her badge and we learn that she’s a Hong Kong cop.
On her flight home there’s a little problem: a major criminal is being extradited, and his associates get guns and a grenade onto the plane to free him. Luckily there are two other badasses on the plane: Michael Wong (Michael Wong, KNOCK OFF), an air marshal who was hitting on her when the action started, and Yamamoto (Hiroyuki Sanada, RINGU, SPEED RACER, THE WOLVERINE), a Japanese guy across the aisle from her. So they put up a fight, which plays out as a major martial arts sequence and shootout in the extra-wide, two story aircraft. Michelle uses the snack cart and a fire extinguisher as improvised weapons…
and nearly brings the plane down when she smashes a guy’s fist through a window. Next thing you know he’s got his head hanging out like a dog in a car.
She actually feels bad about that one and tries to pull him back in, but as you can see it doesn’t work out.
Michael Wong is a very familiar type, a basically nice guy who is super dorky and way too confident that if he keeps insisting that he’s charming it will become true. He starts following Michelle around, buying her flowers, showing up wherever she does, trying to exhaust her into a date, his shit-eating grin growing stronger the more she turns him down.
Look at this dork. If he was an American he would be the president of a young Republicans club.
Michelle tries to brush him off, but because of media attention on these three for their heroism they end up spending time together. They have an uncomfortable dinner with Yamamoto and his wife, who doesn’t want him to be a cop anymore. It was too dangerous even before fighting hijackers mid-air (which to be fair was done in his free time and not necessarily part of the job).
Anyway he’s going to retire for the sake of his wife and adorable young daughter. So of course this cruel fucking movie pulls one of these:
Ouch. Well, to be fair the movie is starting to drag at this point with all the marriage tension and badass reluctance, and the family’s fiery death sends Yamamoto on a mission of vengeance that begins with a crazy car chase with the vehicles (both those involved and random bystanders) seeming to be extra light, just flying and flipping all over the place.
The further we get into the digital age the more I appreciate seeing a movie like this, that has actual stunts in it. It’s the movies of this era and especially those of Hong Kong, they got the real shit in them. You don’t really appreciate what you have until it’s gone. I mean, look at that picture above… that car goes up into a huge fireball, and you have the three main characters in the same shot – quite possibly the lead actors themselves, but I don’t know for sure – and one of them is sprinting toward the explosion.
That car went pop because the surviving hijackers are after our three royal warriors. It seems the guy they killed on the plane was a member of a band of brothers who made a “fight together, die together” pact when they were in the shit together. We get to see a flashback. A landmine is involved. Usually a backstory like this adds humanity to the characters, or implies a sense of honor. But it doesn’t come off that way in this case. These motherfuckers are crazy and they will not give up. They are gonna be a problem. Somebody tell Yamamoto’s dead wife that. The real danger didn’t even come from work. It came from him coming to see you on the same plane as these assholes.
It’s not exactly a non-stop action machine, but there are a bunch of good fights and a good variety of locations. There’s a fight on a boat, there’s Michelle vs. chain saw, there’s a huge shootout in a neon-decorated night club. That one gets pretty vicious, especially when Peter just breaks a huge aquarium over a guy. I thought he was going for an electrocution, but it’s nothing that fancy. He just recognizes the value in following up glass-shattering-over-head with dunked-in-cold-water. Way better than a bottle.
Eventually it becomes a face-off with the last vengeful military guy (Tiger?), who sets some devious traps. He hangs Michael off the side of a building where Michelle can see him. The idea is that she’ll run up to save him and then he’ll detonate some bombs he set up. Michael knows this, so he heroically unties himself and falls to his death. (Yet another cool stunt.)
But a little thing like death won’t stop this guy from holding Michael hostage. He digs up Michael’s grave and makes a video of it to send to Michelle and Yamamoto! He hangs the coffin from a crane at a quarry, again to trick her into getting close to his bombs. Of course she feels guilty about Michael sacrificing himself for her, and she also has strong views about grave desecration. But instead of just stepping into his trap again she goes to a Q type inventor guy who gives her a souped up tank to drive there with. Some shots look like a small remote control version, but I think they also built a full sized tank. It just doesn’t work that well so it gets blown up right away. Then there’s a big scene of riding on a speeding mine cart away from a series of explosions. Honestly a scene like that should be reason enough to watch any movie.
Wong mostly uses guns, but Sanada is a good screen fighter and also has a good broody James Dean type of presence. Yeoh is excellent doing all the choreographed dancer kicks that made us fall in love with her. And it’s cool to see the young baby-faced Yeoh. She doesn’t really have the womanly dignity she’s been known for for so many years, but she’s highly respected by the other police and everything. No sexism problems. The movie is on the same page as the world, it knows she’s awesome.
Apparently this is either first or second in the IN THE LINE OF DUTY series, depending on who you ask. The series doesn’t continue the same characters, they’re just different cop movies, so it’s up to interpretation. In my opinion the LETHAL WEAPONs and some of the POLICE ACADEMYs are also in the series. And certain episodes of Cagney and Lacey.
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.