I was very excited to buy the beautiful new IN THE LINE OF DUTY I-IV blu-ray box set from 88 Films. If you’re not familiar with the series, they are contemporary 1980s Hong Kong movies about female police officers. They call the subgenre “Girls with Guns,” but I like that they’re about the kind of police work that involves high flying martial arts and stunts more than shooting.
IN THE LINE OF DUTY is not as much a series as a brand name – none of them are connected. I had actually only seen two of them – the absolute classic YES, MADAM!, which was the breakthrough movie for both Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock, and ROYAL WARRIORS, starring Yeoh (as a different character) with Hiroyuki Sanada. Now I’m happy to see and review for you the first of the other two included in the set.
Although the logo in the opening credits includes the English title IN THE LINE OF DUTY III, the subtitles call it ROYAL BIG SISTER III: MALE AND FEMALE THIEVES. I guess the Royal Big Sister must be Madam Yeung, played by Cynthia Khan in only her fourth movie. In the opening scene she’s a rookie giving parking tickets in uniform. Even though she’s a cop she’s easy to side with her because a rich douchebag who thinks he can park his fancy rich guy car wherever he wants insults her in front of a laughing crowd. Then an armed robber with a bag full of money happens to flee right past them and they all see her tear her skirt so she can do a bunch of high kicks, acrobatics and lassoing with a string of lights to stop him. How ya like me now?
This white police guy John happens to witness this, and has her transferred to the Serious Crimes Unit, where she’ll be allowed to wear pants, but it’s run by her uncle Cameron Chuen (Paul Chun, HEROIC TRIO), who’s patronizingly overprotective of her and keeps blocking her from getting any assignments.
The opening credits bleed into an arty sequence of mostly white women in black dresses modeling extravagant jewels on a stage with smoke machines and lasers. It’s a show for famous Tokyo jewelry designer Mr. Yamamoto (Hua Yueh, COME DRINK WITH ME) that gets hit by the subtitular Male and Female Thieves, Nakamura Genji (Stuart Ong, ROBOTRIX) and Michiko Nishiwaki (Japan’s first Women’s Bodybuilding and Powerlifting Champion Michiko Nishiwaki, playing herself I guess). We know they’re absolutely vicious because 1) Michiko aggressively kisses a security guard while stabbing him to death and 2) they swing in from above machine gunning everybody at the show, and then the bodies pile up and get shot more during the ensuing shootout. Squibs everywhere. Brutal.
In addition to that, we know they’re clever because they have cool paint roller type devices that attach to the black velvet sheets the jewelry is displayed on and just quickly roll them up for transport.
They confidently flee using Yamamoto as a human shield and rappelling down with ropes that are already in place for them on a balcony. But a pair of Tokyo cops catch up with them on foot and the younger officer, Ken (Kin-sang Lee, EASTERN CONDORS), manages to grab onto Michiko as she leaps over a ledge. Nakamura shoots him until he drops her, so they get away. The older cop, Hiroshi Fujioka (played by… Hiroshi Fujioka, GHOST WARRIOR) survives and wants revenge.
There’s a phenomenon now, seemingly with younger generations – hopefully just a vocal minority on the internet, but who knows – who say there shouldn’t be sex scenes in movies, and complain that they don’t advance the plot. This idea offends me to my core because what kind of a sorry sonofabitch doesn’t understand that stories and art are about a million things in addition to and often way more important than “advancing the plot”? Fuck the plot, and fuck advancing it. I’m going to take that plot, blindfold it, spin it around, make sure it’s facing in the exact wrong direction, and startle it so bad it runs for six days straight and doesn’t turn around, getting so lost you can never find it again. And I’m sorry, I know you loved the plot, but you brought this on yourself when you allowed your puritanical streak to disrespect the cinematic arts. You’ve been spending too much time with the plot, and it’s time for you to be separated for both of your well being. Tough love.
Anyway. Setting all that aside, IN THE LINE OF DUTY III has a sex scene that in my opinion makes the movie. Not in that it’s hot or anything like that, but in that it quickly establishes the complicated pile of hangups, conflicts and traumas the villains are dealing with, making them into interestingly fucked up characters, and them being interesting characters makes the whole movie more interesting, giving this well-built engine of action spectacle the fuel it needs to run. Cut that scene and you’d still have a bunch of great action, but the whole movie would be way less enjoyable.
The scene starts in a nice waterfront view hotel room, where Michiko is sketching a boat. When her muscular partner gets out of the shower she smiles and says, “Let’s buy a yacht and live it up on the Caribbean Sea.” He’s furious – calls her selfish and slaps her. Says they stole the money to buy guns for the Red Army. Hurt, she reaches under her pillow, where she keeps her huge Rambo style hunting knife. She vows that they will die together, slashes across both of their arms, sucks some blood from each wound, kisses his chest, removes his towel using the knife. Then, as they’re furiously humping and hungrily sucking face she holds his head, and, to her dismay, a clump of his hair comes out in her fingers. He puts his hand on her throat as he orgasms – one of those guys. A tear drops from her eye when he’s finished. These two are a mess.
In later scenes it’s spelled out that he only has two months to live, and wants to dedicate his last days sacrificing for the Red Army cause. On a boat, looking at a romantic view of the Hong Kong skyline at night, he says, “I want to cherish every minute, every second. What we need most is ammunition.”
She loves him and would rather cherish those seconds in a different way, but she goes along with what he wants instead. And they do at least get to share sweet moments like when they kiss while blowing up the guys that smuggled them into Hong Kong but tried to extort them.
(There are some nice looking explosions in this one.)
The authorities do in fact call them “The Male and Female Thieves.” Fujioka concludes Yamamoto was colluding with The Male and Female Thieves as an insurance scam (otherwise they would’ve killed him). But Yamamoto’s close ties to politicians make him untouchable. Fujioka is willing to resign to pursue him personally, but the commissioner suggests he can stay on the force and still get Yamamoto by following him on a trip to Hong Kong.
The Serious Crime squad includes a couple of comical nerds, one of them an endearingly grouchy woman (Sandra Kwan Yue Ng, SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT), another with an obvious crush on Yeung. They get sent to bust an underground gunmaker her uncle/boss just describes as “a white guy” (Stephan Berwick, TIGER CAGE). Uncle says he’s dangerous but doesn’t mention his flying kicks. Yeung shows up uninvited and kicks his ass in public, the media finds out about her and her uncle is forced to put her on the case of these thieves who are also terrorists coming to Hong Kong to buy arms for the Red Army.
Fujioka has a huge gun like Dirty Harry and Yeung tells him he can’t have a gun, it’s illegal. She’s by the book and still cooler than him. But he’s pretty cool when he apologizes and pretends to take a poison pill as a fake out to hide in a ceiling tile and then escape. They all fall for it.
Yamamoto is such an asshole to his bodyguards that they quit. They’re leaving when Fujioka shows up to kick his ass and they say, “We’ve quit. Take your time having fun.”
There’s some comedy about Melvin Wong (THE OCCUPANT) as Yamamoto’s manly police escort who used to date Yeung and wants to get back together with her, and an appearance by the late Richard Ng as a guy who pretends to be a ninja as a joke. But don’t worry, the time spent on jokes if far outweighed by action. A shootout and fight breaks out at a club, and people keep dancing at first (JOHN WICK CHAPTER 4 wasn’t the first). There are remote controlled helicopters with explosives attached. Yeung chases the thieves in a stolen truck with boxes dumping out of the back, and she’s jumping over and ducking under them like she’s playing Donkey Kong.
There’s hanging from moving vehicles, long one-on-one fights, using nets and ropes and things, some fire stunts, doing somersaults over cars, getting hit by cars and knocked into water, leaping out of the path of cars and firing into them mid-air. There’s a weird turn of events where (SPOILER) Nakamura gets shot and falls out of a van and gets run over and absolutely torn apart. In the next scene Michiko is in a black and white room and a stylish black dress, possibly contemplating suicide, but then decides on revenge against “that policewoman.” Their associate (Dick Wei, SUPERCOP 2) first makes a pass at her, then slashes his arm with a sword and vows to help her. These people are passionate.
During the climactic garage fight between Yeung and Michiko, Wei’s character pulls a Jason Voorhees move – his hands suddenly burst through a wall to strangle Yeung. Props used include a pile of bricks that smash a car, a large wrench, a chain link fence, a huge drill, a sledge hammer, a bunch of rebar, a hatchet, and a clump of wires Yeung uses to catch Michiko when she falls from the upper level. But then Michiko reveals she’s wearing a suicide vest, so Yeung tosses her headfirst through a window and then leaps away from the explosion. No revenge for her.
This installment is directed by Arthur Wong (cinematographer of THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN, HEROES OF THE EAST, DIRTY HO, WHEELS ON MEALS, ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA, and many other classics) and Brandy Yuen (THE CHAMPIONS), and written by Chan Kiu-Ying (THE POSTMAN STRIKES BACK, GEN-X COPS 2: METAL MAYHEM). There are a bunch of martial arts directors listed: Kin Sun Lee, Siu-Hung Leung, Brandy Yuen, Cheung-Yan Yuen, Yat Chor Yuen. (Those Yeungs are all siblings of Yuen Woo-ping, who will direct the next entry in the series.)
Finally, it is my duty to report that the score by Phil Chen (STORY OF RICKY) uses the Digital Native Dance sound patch a few times. I don’t know if that’s a plus or a minus, but either way, I highly recommend IN THE LINE OF DUTY III.
May 16th, 2023 at 8:48 am
There’s a phenomenon now, seemingly with younger generations – hopefully just a vocal minority on the internet, but who knows – who say there shouldn’t be sex scenes in movies
Have any of these younger people been to a movie lately? Not only are sex scenes are rare and surprising, nowadays. But to see one over 12 seconds in length is downright shocking.