Director: Corey Yuen
Starring: Michelle Khan (Yeoh), Cynthia Royhrock, Mang Hoi, John Shum, Tsui Hark
The story surrounding the various titles for this seminal "Girls with guns" film is about as checkered and downright confusing as any I've ever come across. I first saw this film in 1988 (dubbed in English as Police Assassins 2) and to this day, I'm still a little fuzzy about it's genesis. To the best of my knowledge it was filmed in 1985 as Yes Madam, but shelved because the Producers at D & B (a new and short lived Hong Kong film company) considered it unreleasable (!). When the semi sequel, Royal Warriors was a hit the following year, Yes Madam was dusted off and finally released as R.W.s sequel. In other countries, Royal Warriors was known alternately as Police Assassins and In the Line of Duty, so Yes Madam was similarly retitled once again as the sequel, even though it came first. Got that?
Multiple titles notwithstanding, Yes Madam is a real treat. It was one of my first experiences with the modern Hong Kong action films of the '80s (and my first that didn't star Jackie Chan) and I was properly blown away by it.
The film pairs Michelle Yeoh (then named Michelle Khan) and Cynthia Rothrock as mismatched police women who attempt to bring down a crime lord (played by long time vet, James Tien) only to have their paths cross with a trio of bumbling, yet clever thieves (John Shum, Mang Hoi and Tsui Hark).
It at times resembles that of Sammo Hung's Lucky Stars series, but it melds it's goofy comedy into the dead serious action in a much more satisfying brew. This of course, causes the film to be more than a little schizophrenic. But as uneven as it is, it really hits the ground running and proceeds at such a breakneck pace that it's almost impossible not to get caught up in it's wild shenanigans.
Director and choreographer Corey Yuen (who would eventually helm films like The Transporter) was one of the unsung heroes of the 80s modern action movement. As a choreographer, he is almost without peer as this and his followup effort, Righting Wrongs (which pairs Rothrock with Yuen Biao) so vividly point out. Here, the action is nothing short of incredible. The finale in particular ranks as one of the ten best in any Hong Kong movie of this vintage (meaning it ranks as one of the ten best from any movie ever).
As for our two leading ladies, this was Michelle Yeoh's first starring vehicle (she previously had a small non-action role as a demure school teacher in the film Owl vs. Dumbo) and for a relative rookie, she makes the most of it, displaying a ferociousness that she has not matched since. Ladylike one moment, she can go all out Dirty Harry the next (as demonstrated in the film's opening scene, complete with a "do you feel lucky?" riff). The film really takes off however, with the arrival of Rothrock as a super tough and quite ornary detective from America (Scotland Yard in the original, alternate English dub). A real life Black Belt in several varying martial arts forms, Rothrock puts her talents to terrific use here (though both ladies understandably were doubled for the really dangerous stunts of which there are plenty).
Special mention should go to Dick Wei (aka Ti Wei). One of Hong Kong's consistently best bad guys from this period, Wei can be seen in everything from 5 Deadly Venoms (where he played the dying master in the pre credits sequence) to Project A (where he had arguably his most memorable role as the Pirate leader). Playing the gangster's right hand man, he gets to battle both Yeoh and Rothrock in the finale and nearly wins. In real life, Wei was apparently as rough and tough as his characters and did not pull his screen punches. The story goes that at one point, he kicked Rothrock so hard in the head that she bled out of her ear! Not nice...
While hardly high art, Yes Madam gives as much high caliber bang for your buck as any you are likely to see. A personal favorite.
***1/2 / ****