In the Line of Duty III

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“The harder they come…”

Firstly, in case you’re wondering, there was no In the Line of Duty 2, or even In the Line of Duty. Well, not as such… In the Line of Duty is the European title for Royal Warriors, and In the Line of Duty 2 is Yes, Madam!. Even though the latter was made first, they were released in a different order in some territories, with the success of In the Line of Duty/Royal Warriors leading to a swift re-titling for marketing purposes of Yes, Madam!. However, one presumes makers D+B Films decided to save time, simply adopting the name for the third “installment” in the – really, non-existent – series. I hope you’re paying attention at the back. This will be on the test. ;-)

There was, however, a problem. Namely, the star of the previous two films, Michelle Yeoh (at that time, better known as Michelle Khan) was unavailable – having married D+B owner, Dickson Poon. Their choice was “Cynthia Khan”, a name obtained by combining that of the two Yes, Madam! stars, Cynthia Rothrock and Michelle Khan. Like her predecessor, she was not from Hong Kong, coming from Taiwan, and was also both a martial-arts novice and a former dancer whose aspirations in that direction had been limited by injury. [You can also add Moon Lee into the “former dancer” category] Despite this lack of long-term background, she slots right in, and the result is a solid action heroine flick.

The plot is largely based around revenge; the catalyst is a Japanese cop (Fujioka), whose partner is shot by a terrorist (Ong) during a jewel robbery. He reckons the jewel owner, Yamamoto, was doing an insurance scam, and follows him to Hong Kong, since there is too much influence to press charges in Japan. The terrorist and his partner (Nishiwaki) have also come to Hong Kong, seeking to buy arms with their loot, but discover the jewels are fake, and they too have been scammed, so want to take it out on Yamamoto. Meanwhile, Madam Yeung (Khan) has joined the police squad run by her uncle; he doesn’t want her to do anything risky, despite her being the most talented officer on the roster, so assigns her to babysit the Japanese cop, show him the sights and keep him out of mischief.

No prizes for guessing exactly how well that works – or for predicting that it will all lead to a brutal brawl in a warehouse between Nishiwaki, Khan and Dick Wei, as the various agendas of revenge come into conjunction. It’s rough-housing at its best, with everything save the kitchen sink (but including an industrial drill) being used as weapons. While the doubling for Khan is occasionally apparent, there are also moments you think she’s being doubled, until she swings round to show her face. Overall, for what was basically her debut, it’s pretty impressive, and credit to action directors Chris Lee, Tony Leung Siu-Hung, Brandy Yuen and Yuen Cheung-yan, as well as, of course, to Khan herself.

in-the-Line-of-Duty3-001The script is not bad. It does suffer from the usual unevenness of tone, with occasional comedic interludes that detract from an impressively dark tone, especially as the film progresses. The worst offender there is a meaningless cameo by Eric Tsang and Richard Ng (well-known HK actress Sandra Ng also shows up in an early supporting role), but there are nice moments which help give all the characters depth, and the storyline makes basic sense, which is more than can be said for some entries in the genre. Though let’s just hope, it isn’t as easy to get a bomb – complete with ticking digital counter – into the heart of a Hong Kong police station these days!

What I particularly like about the film, is the nicely-built sense of escalation. The opening scene, in which Khan handles a traffic-offender, then a robber, is light fluff, like you’d expect from the Inspector Wears Skirts series. Almost immediately, however, the body count starts to rise, not least since the terrorists’ approach involves a startlingly reckless disregard for human life. While Khan’s acting talents are, perhaps wisely, hardly tested, Nishiwaki delivers a good performance of striking intensity, and it always struck me as a shame that she didn’t get many lead roles like this one: she’s more known for her cameos, as in God of Gamblers or My Lucky Stars.

This is undeniably a fun time-passer, and a good example of the HK girls-with-guns genre that flourished in the mid-80’s and has never quite been replicated since. There’s a moment towards the end where it’s suddenly made clear that anyone could die at any moment in this film: something you’ll rarely see in a Western flick (outside the horror genre, at least). It’s perhaps a shame they didn’t do this earlier, since from that moment on, this has a reckless, unpredictable attitude which ranks with the best action movies.

Dir: Brandy Yuen and Arthur Wong
Stars: Cynthia Khan, Hiroshi Fujioka, Michiko Nishiwaki, Stuart Ong

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