ROYAL WARRIORS [1986]

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Directed by:
Written by:
Starring: , , ,

HONG KONG

AKA WONG GA JIN SI, IN THE LINE OF DUTY, IN THE LINE OF DUTY 2, POLICE ASSASSINS

ON BLU-RAY: 23RD JANUARY, from EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT

RUNNING TIME: 86 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera

Royal Warriors

Two villains try to rescue a prisoner who’s being transported on a plane from Tokyo to Hong Hong, but also on the plane are Hong Kong cop Michelle Yip, air marshal Michael Wong and ex-Japanese cop Peter Yamomoto, and they kill the crooks and land as heroes. The stuck-on-himself Michael eats up the spotlight and turns on the charm towards the quiet Michelle, while the stoic Peter is more concerned with reuniting with his wife and young daughter and patching up his marriage. However, the two hijackers were part of a group of four military buddies who made a pact to always stay together and avenge the deaths of any of the group….

Despite what you may have heard, Royal Warriors, which sees the return of Michelle Yeoh in a similar but certainly not identical role, is neither a proper sequel nor indeed a prequel to the groundbreaking “Femme Fatale” movie Yes, Madam! which paired Yeoh with Cynthia Rothrock – though of course it’s so easy to be confused. In the UK Royal Warriors was originally re-titled Police Assassins on video, with Yes, Madam! subsequently packaged as a sequel called Police Assassins 2, while in many other countries, Yes, Madam! and Royal Warriors were called In The Line of Duty and In The Line Of Duty 2, leading to In The Line of Duty 3 and In The Line Of Duty 4 which starred Yang Li-Tsing, credited as ‘Cynthia Khan’ to link her to Rothrock and Yeoh who was originally billed with the surname Khan. Amazingly Eureka are also going to release those latter two films, and I can’t wait, but for now we have Royal Warriors, which isn’t as important a film as its predecessor nor as well known. However, a case can be made for it being superior. Yes, Madam! spent more time with its crook characters rather than its two main stars and, while it certainly wasn’t boring with decent characterisation and much of the humour coming off okay, it did feel like it partly wasted the talents of Yeoh and Rothrock, and seemed to mark time towards the end. However, Royal Warriors allows Yeoh to show off her skills throughout as well as giving her a chance to really show her acting chops for the first time. It almost disperses with comedy, a rarity for such a film at the time, instead focusing on action and diverse action too, but the plot still has its interesting aspects including slightly more sympathetic bad guys than usual, a surprise fifteen minutes in which actually knocked me for six, and more dark turns towards the end. Perhaps the only real flaws are the annoying character of Michael Wong and a score which, while typical of the genre and period, is rather overused. Both films share a lot of faces.

So we begin in Tokyo with shots showing a road with cars driving on it, the same road empty, and then the same road with some kind of festival going on. There’s dancing, martial arts demonstrating and a band where the soundtrack tries to approximate what it should sound like and fails miserably – but aren’t things like this part of the charm of these films? It’s easy to forget how cheaply made they were too. Our Michelle is on holiday and busy photographing [and even dancing a little], but meanwhile two bad guys burst into a shop and demand to see a fool who, like so many fools before him, thinks he can leave the mob just like that. They find the guy and chase after him right into the street where Michelle is, so a fight begins, the highlights being her grabbing a kendo stick from some demonstrators and showing off her skill with it, and jumping onto a pillar atop a roof upside down before flipping back to the right way up; of course there’s a cut here but Yeoh is still probably doing it. Next she’s on a plane bound for Hong Kong, thinking a man is sitting in her seat and bumping into air marshal Michael who immediately tries to chat her up;meanwhile the air hostess spills tea on a huge teddy bear which belongs to Peter, the Japanese ex-cop on his way to sort out things with his family, having got himself a 9 to 5 job too. It’s a nice way of introducing the other two main characters. Then two villains shoot dead [how did they get those guns onboard?] two cops guarding a prisoner, causing Yeoh to have to leap into action again, but this time helped by Michael and Peter despite a window being shot out, an inconvenience then sorted out by a bad guy being hurled through the gap, blocking it. Umm, yeah okay. Michelle’s been through a lot so Michael kindly says to her “Dinner’s on me”. They’re supposed to meet at eight, but he turns up outside the police station really early because “I saw a longing for you in my eyes”, then follows her to her [amazingly lavish] apartment. Yes, definitely stalking, and even in 1986!

It turns out that also present at dinner are Peter and his wife – did Michelle deliberately arrange this? Michael just can’t stop asking them irritating questions even though it’s obvious that the two are going through a difficult patch. The cocky, stupid Michael is undoubtedly well played by – Michael Wong, who resists the temptation to mug [and appears to be speaking in English too], but there are times you may wish that somebody would kick the hell out of him. Then suddenly something happens which sure as hell came as a shock to me though I suppose it may not do to everyone else; I’m going to try to not reveal it so it retains its impact. The two friends of the two shot hijackers want revenge, and we get a few short flashbacks showing how their bond came to be. The set doesn’t convince us that we’re in a war zone which is unspecified [Vietnam?], but these bits do compel and there’s one scene which is really quite powerful even if it could have done with being longer. All this certainly doesn’t turn them into characters you like, but it does give us some understanding of them, and is a nice change from the usual unscrupulous drug lords we get in these films, though we never do find put why two of them were rescuing that prisoner on the plane in the first place. Rather than going after them himself or suggest that they team up, one of the men orders the other to take out Michell, Michael and Peter. After the first failed attempt, a bayonet left behind matches up with the ones on the plane, so Peter decides to use the other two as bait so he can catch the attacker. The resulting carnage causes Michelle to be fired, but of course that just frees her up even more to catch the bad guys. It’s unusual that for the final quarter there’s only one bad guy, though he’s certainly a powerful one!

After the warmup on the street of Tokyo, the action really hots up on the plane, with Michael engaged in a shoot out while Michelle and Peter team up to fight a villain,; this kind of teaming up two against one perfectly normal in Hong Kong cinema, remember. The plane setting is really well used throughout. A car chase has loads of cars flip over and roll plus Peter running after a jeep and hanging on to it before climbing on it; it’s clearly Sanada dis clearly doing this; later on he’s buried in loads of sand. He gets a lot of opportunities to shine, including a solo boat fight [mysteriously cut to almost nothing in the UK video release], even though Yeoh gets more, which is as it should be. They both fight a bad guy together again in a night club ,while she brawls solo on a tractor and inside a shack where she and Ying Bai make use of almost everything inside it including a chainsaw during one section just like that bit in The Protector. Its possible to still get a bit disappointed that there isn’t more martial arts in this scene seeing as it’s the final fight, but I was just focusing on how much Yeoh was obviously getting bashed about, while she does plenty of fighting elsewhere, her not having been a trained martial artist certainly not showing. Her twice-shown scissor kick is awesome, and I like the way she’s always happy to grab something like a fire extinguisher to bash an opponent with even if said opponent doesn’t have a weapon; it seems more realistic. She gets to drive a rather “on its last legs” armoured car and narrowly escape fire too, the camera showing the latter twice. There aren’t any bits of humour in the action scenes [and not much elsewhere really], while there’s a viciousness as with other D & B films; here there aren’t the really nasty deaths of Yes, Madam! and Righting Wrongs, but people get shot very bloodily and bystanders always have a good chance of getting it too. A case can be made for none of the fight scenes quite having the impact of that final showdown in Yes, Madam!, but the choreography is actually more intricate, with more strikes. Th0ugh what’s with that absurdly big explosion for just a car? Look out for it, it’s very odd indeed.

Except for the neon-drenched nightclub this film isn’t as colourful to look as its predecessor, though there’s more location work. David Chang is better known as a cinematographer of many films including classics such as God Of Gamblers and Once Upon A Time In China; as director he keeps the pace going, and Kan-Cheung Tsang’s screenplay does make us care about the characters [yes even eventually Michael] even though it looks like one of those jobs where certain scenes have been cut to the bone. This is one of those films where you actually want to have a extra two or three dialogue scenes between the three main characters, because they all show strong signs of being interesting and the performers work very well together, yet one can also admire the terrific economy of storytelling, with not a minute of wasted footage, and even scene transitions often designed to propel things forward, leaving out certain shots or connecting something at the end of one scene with something else in another. Sanada is suitably brooding while Wong does eventually get some scenes where he’s not required to annoy us which he pulls off rather well. He also gets into the action, not the fighting, but he does hang from a rope from a high building which admittedly may not be that high in reality but which still looks dangerous. As for Yeoh, this film requires her to convey a wide range of emotions and, while she’s far away from becoming the very nuanced actress that she eventually became and who we’re now very used to, there are strong signs of this in a fair few scenes. Royal Warriors really is a much better showcase than Yes, Madam! for Yeoh all-round and the script never lets us forget that it’s really her film; her two co-stars are fine and their characters vitally important, but, perhaps for the first time in one of these films, seeing as Man Hui, John Sham and Tsui Hark took much of the attention from Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock in Yes, Madam! while Yuen Baio had just a little bit more to do than Rothrock in Golden Harvest’s Righting Wrongs, it’s really the female lead’s show.

There’s so much to enjoy in Royal Warriors, which almost makes it a shame that I have to criticise Romeo Diaz’s music score, which becomes rather grating not because of its main themes, nor the obligatory villain chords or indeed a villain theme used in Yes, Madam!, but because said main themes are repeated far more often than they needed to be. Nonetheless, the lean, mean Royal Warriors is almost a model of economy, and having an action star who can act as well as fight raises its value even more.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★½☆

 

SPECIAL FEATURES

Limited Edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling [2000 copies]

1080p HD presentation on Blu-ray from a brand new 2K restoration 

A slightly speckly [but only slightly] opening couple of minutes segues into the usual fantastic presentation with the film looking very much of its time but restored to modern specifications. The image is very clear and very sharp and grain is evenly balanced. Colours are slightly muted but that could have been intentional.

Cantonese mono audio [theatrical mix]

Cantonese mono audio [home video mix]

English mono [classic dub]
I watched a few scenes with this dub. It’s fairly good of its kind.

English 5.1 surround [home video mix]
This later dub is, as these later dubs tend to be, inferior to the early dub. The voice actors chosen have little personality, though their lines are often closer to the original script if one goes by the translations into English on the Cantonese version.

Optional English subtitles, newly translated for this release

Brand new feature length audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng [NY Asian Film Festival
Djeng does this one on his own, but of course with little loss of energy; okay he has a few short breaks but he’s still really going for it as fast as he can but with no loss of clarity. As always, he’s extremely specific and informative about settings, from the opening Tokyo festival actually being a real annual one which has lots of young people showing off their skills to potential talent agents, to a floating restaurant that capsised en route to a new location and which “conspiracy theorists” say may have been sunk. We also learn that Wong is dubbed by Jackie Chan’s usual voice double while Sanada is voiced by two people depending on whether he’s speaking Cantonese or Japanese. Djeng also narrowly escaped a stampede in 1993. There’s not much production info about the film itself, but Djeng keeps things interesting and seems to prefer it to Yes, Madam! like I do.

Brand new feature length audio commentary by action cinema experts Mike Leeder & Arne Venema
Leeder and Venema provide their usual lighter but still very informative track, sometimes covering a wider scope but that’s fine, and here they both contribute about equally rather than Leeder usually taking the lead. We learn stuff like when Leeder asked somebody in Japan “What’s to stop a kid from buying alcohol from a vending machine” and received the reply “Well they’re not old enough”, which tells us something quite profound about the difference of Japanese culture to ours. In reference to the plane window smashing, we’re told that a man once did get stuck for 25 minutes in a cockpit window which burst, and he survived! It’s also speculated that Johnny To directed a lot of the better scenes, and we learn that the film had a whopping seven cinematographers. What with some nostalgic chat about the old days which old timers like me can relate to, this is as fun a listen as we’ve come expect; they also both prefer this to Yes, Madam! too.

A conversation with John Sham [2018 Far East Film Festival [33 mins]
Probably intended for the Yes. Madam! disc but not included because of lack of space, this sees Sham being asked about how he got into the film industry, then his producing career. So there’s nothing about, for example, the two Lucky Stars films which he starred in, but he clearly produced a diverse range of movies. We learn that that it was him who asked Yeoh if she wanted to get into action, and that Yeoh tended to ignore he injuries and carry on, while information about other films includes Sham being dubious about giving Derek Yee a chance to direct The Lunatics until Yee described exactly how he would direct certain scenes. It sounds like Sham’s contribution to Hong Kong cinema has been under-looked.

“Royal Warriors” and “Yes, Madam” locations – featurette by Arne Venema [10 mins]
A tour around Hong Kong, pointing out many locations. Hong Kong changes quickly so a lot of places are just not there any more, but Detective Venema is able to, for example, see where Hark’s character’s home in Yes, Madam! was when one angle reveals the same skyscraper in the background, while we’re told that the car chase mostly consists of driving up and down the same road. Venema is the main man but Leeder joins him a bit; how nice it is to see them together.

Trailer

Reversible sleeve design

A Limited Edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing by James Oliver [2000 copies]

 

High octane stuff which will serve as a good introduction for newbies to Hong Kong stuff, “Royal Warriors” comes in the usual fine Eureka package. Highly Recommended!

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About Dr Lenera 1985 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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