(a.k.a. POLICE ASSASSINS on the DVD I watched)
YES, MADAM! is a 1985 Hong Kong action classic starring the one and only Michelle Yeoh as Senior Inspector Ng, hard working cop who should be on vacation and instead ends up searching for some damn microfilm.
She ends up on the case due to a crazy pile-up of coincidences. Her old instructor Richard Nordon (Michael Harry, AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE) is meeting in his hotel room with a thug named Mr. Dick (Dick Wei, EASTERN CONDORS), who ends up killing him. Immediately after that, two thieves disguised as bellboys happen to break into the room. They happen to steal Nordon’s passport, which happens to contain the microfilm of a forged contract that Mr. Dick was after in the first place. And then Inspector Ng happens to come to the room to meet with her old mentor, just in time to see the fake bellboy fleeing the scene and try to chase him.
There’s a dramatic moment in the lobby when Mr. Dick thinks she’s made him and is ready to shoot her.
She’s actually talking to the bellboy behind him and doesn’t notice.
The thieves, Asprin (Hoi Mang, WAY OF THE BLACK DRAGON) and Strepsil (John Shum, BODYGUARDS AND ASSSASSINS) decide to bring the passport to their friend Panadol, a quirky dude who makes fake IDs (and fake documents, fake guns, fake grenades…) Amazingly, Panadol is played by DOUBLE TEAM director Tsui Hark, already a veteran director at that point. It’s billed as a “special appearance,” but it’s not at all a cameo, he’s actually one of the main characters. He lives and works in a cluttered apartment that has a prominently displayed (though poorly maintained) RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II poster.
It becomes a major action location because of a series of gates and contraptions he has built into the place.
Even before Panadol finds the microfilm (and hides it under a rubber boob inside a disconnected toilet) they’re all mixed up with this murder because they have the stolen passport. They go to check in with their master, played by none other than Sammo Hung. He’s supposed to be old, so his hair is spray-colored grey, and he hides out in a retirement home, which I didn’t really understand.
There’s a part I don’t get where it makes you think he and his roommates are planning to gang rape a nurs,e but actually they just grab the full chicken she’s carrying in and start eating it and then she says “You mustn’t eat chicken! You’re on a special diet” and I don’t understand why she was bringing it in in the first place.
An exciting moment in both YES, MADAM! and in cinema history is when Inspector Ng gets a tip that the person who bought the stolen passport (Eddie Maher) is going to fly out of the country. Assuming he’s involved in the murder she stops him at the airport, which turns into a big fight and foot chase. And then – oh no! – he grabs a random woman. He has a hostage!
Ha ha! Poor choice of hostage, dumbass.
I knew she was gonna do that kick. She also runs up a wall for a flying kick to the face. Knowing that Cynthia Rothrock was in the movie, we’d already predicted she’d be Carrie Morris, the Scotland Yard inspector we were told was flying in to help with the case. I was concerned “Is Cynthia gonna have to do an accent? But, duh, she’s not even speaking English, she’s dubbed. And yes, they make that joke where some dudes are saying sexist shit about her thinking she doesn’t understand and then she speaks to them in Cantonese and they go “wh-wh-whut?”
She gets to be the bad cop, taking the thug into an interrogation room and then beating up on him. Like everyone in this movie he has a poor attitude toward women: “I think you’re too tough. You’ll never find a husband.”
Other sexism directed toward them: “Miss, you’re very polite and pretty.” “If you want to show off, do it in the kitchen.” There’s a great part where their opponent calls them “Typical women. Always talking.” Ng says, “Don’t forget, among those women are your mothers.”
None of this makes Carrie any less Riggs. When she catches somebody dangling Panadol off a roof she threatens to shoot him. He’s thinking come on lady, obviously you’re not gonna shoot me because I’d drop this guy. And then she shoots him and he drops the guy.
And I don’t think she knew that he would get tangled in some ropes. Even this almost kills him – he’s hanging by the neck a few feet above the ground until she shoots the rope. Back at headquarters she brags that she’s only been there a few days but already has a nickname. Panadol correctly guesses that it’s “White Bitch.” (Well, she says it’s actually “Nasty White Bitch.”)
Meanwhile the other thieves are running around getting into unrelated trouble with a pool shark – fortunately a thug coming after them beats up everybody in the pool hall for them. The police won’t protect them so they try to get locked up by beating up a cop. He’s too embarrassed to admit that they beat him up, so he won’t arrest them. Out of desperation they decide they can get arrested by trying to tear Inspector Ng’s clothes off – but she just punches them in the face.
By the way, the main villain’s henchman is named Mad Dog, played by Fat Chung (CHINESE HERCULES, SHANGHAI EXPRESS), the master of the fake mustache. In my opinion, the Mad Dog in HARD BOILED and the Mad Dog in THE RAID should sue this Mad Dog for defamation. As you can see, his colleague here is most likely a little embarrassed to be seen with him.
One of the top moments in a movie packed with top moments happens after the boss (Melvin Wong, ABOVE THE LAW) takes them off the case and buys Ng a plane ticket for some other assignment. She tears up the ticket and turns in her gun and badge.
What she does not see is that after she leaves the room Carrie, impressed by her integrity, turns hers in too. She catches up as Ng is pulling out in her car. And there is an equivalent to one of my all time favorite tropes, the Badass Nod (see: VIGILANTE, EASTERN CONDORS).
Of course it would be disappointing if a movie like this didn’t have a wide variety of crazy action. It is not disappointing. The action choreography is by Corey Yuen (THE TRANSPORTER 2, RED CLIFF, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS) and Hoi Mang (ZU: WARRIORS FROM THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN). There’s falling out windows, hanging onto things on the side of the building, motorcycles drive over cars and things, and there’s a huge climactic brawl in a mansion. Both Ng and Carrie have parts where they use umbrellas as weapons. Carrie breaks the bamboo handle off and uses it to stick fight, then pole vault. Ng swings on a chandelier, goes head first through glass. There’s a fancy glass fountain that exists solely for a guy to fall on.
And as great as all this fighting is, the preamble is even better. The Oh Shit It’s On moment. The bonding moment. The sequel to the Badass Nod. They’re surrounded by about ten dudes trying to kill them and they smile and slap each other five. They’re into it.
The only thing stopping this from leaving everybody in giant smiles at the end is that it has one of those suddenly, weirdly depressing endings they sometimes do in Hong Kong action. The bad guy is gonna get away with it and Asprin and Seprin are going to jail so Asprin steals a gun to shoot him, sacrificing himself. Freeze frame. The end.
(I guess a picture of two watches means “The End”?)
But, other than the cynical “the world is shit and unfair” ending this is a ridiculously fun and unpretentious movie that’s also very important in the history of Hong Kong action cinema. It’s the first starring role for both Yeoh and Rothrock, and its popularity kicked off both the IN THE LINE OF DUTY series and an entire subgenre of female cop movies (see also SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT, SATIN STEEL, ROYAL WARRIORS). It’s only the second movie directed by Yuen, and the one he did before NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER.
I spent way too much of my life not having seen YES, MADAM!. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
If possible, that is. This is only the latest example I’ve come across of a Hong Kong movie that was widely known in the ’80s and ’90s that doesn’t even have adequate representation in expensive out-of-print DVD form, as those were made for analog TVs and would look much better if made now. Maybe there’s a good streaming service for Asian cinema that I don’t know about, but even if there is I’d love to see one of the trusted boutique labels, whether or it’s Arrow, Criterion, Shout Factory, Vinegar Syndrome or whoever, dig into some of these for Blu-Ray and DVD. I believe Arrow has done the first DRUNKEN MASTER, and I’ve heard rumors of another seminal Jackie Chan coming from another label, so maybe they’re on it. Somebody go buy the Weinstein library, okay?
P.S. You know how sometimes Hong Kong movies steal pieces of soundtracks from other movies? This one uses some of John Carpenter’s score for HALLOWEEN! Not the main theme, but come on, man. Did you think we wouldn’t notice that shit?
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.