AKA HUANG JIA SHI JIE SZI III, ROYAL MADAM 3: MALE AND FEMALE THIEVES, FORCE OF THE DRAGON
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY: 2OTH MARCH, from EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT
RUNNING TIME: 84 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
Genji Nakamura and his girlfriend Michiko Nishiwaki are thieves for the notorious Red Army terrorist organisation in Japan. While stealing some valuable gems in a plot that appears to be part of an insurance fraud scheme cooked up by renowned fashion designer, Yamamoto, the resulting carnage causes the death of rookie cop Ken Yamato, leading his partner Hiroshi Fujioka to swear vengeance and follow Genji and Michiko to Hong Kong where they plan to sell the diamonds to buy arms. Hong Kong inspector Rachel Yeung is determined to bust Genji and Michiko, but Chief Inspector Cameron Chun – who also happens to be her uncle – doesn’t like her being in danger and assigns Rachel to just escort Fujioka around and keep him out of trouble, hoping he’ll return to Japan in a few days. However, is this really likely to happen?….
Unless you’re a real aficionado of Hong Kong cinema and/or read every review that shows up on this website, you may very well be wondering why on earth haven’t we reviewed the first two parts of what’s obviously a series. Well, we have. Shall I go through the bonkers retitling once more? 1986’s Yes, Madam, starring Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock, was released in most Asian territories under that title, and was soon followed up by Royal Warriors, which also starred Yeoh but not Rothrock. Royal Warriors was originally re-titled Police Assassins on video in the UK, with Yes, Madam subsequently packaged as a sequel, therefore becoming Police Assassins 2. In many other countries, Yes, Madam and Royal Warriors were called In The Line of Duty and In The Line Of Duty 2. The success of those led to the production of In The Line of Duty III and In The Line Of Duty IV, whose Hong Kong titles were Royal Madam III: Male And Female Thieves and Royal Madam IV, both of which star Yang Li-Tsing, credited as ‘Cynthia Khan’ to link her to Rothrock and Yeoh who was originally billed with the surname Khan, and as the same character too [Yeoh played different if similar parts in the first two]. When Yes, Madam made it to UK DVD, it was called Police Assassins, then In the Line of Duty IV was released as In The Line of Duty! Phew! Anyway, This third entry is similar to the second, with another Japanese cop/Hong Kong lady cop pairing, and, while it begins in lighter vein, later assumes the same destructive, even nihilistic feel, where nobody is safe and bad things can happen at any moment [at one point a toy helicopter kills someone]. The two films are almost dreamlike reflections of each other while still most definitely having their own identities. The plot knocked up by screenwriter Kiu-Ying Chan isn’t as compelling and is sometimes daft, but Khan, in her action movie debut [though not her movie debut] is simply terrific and in no way trying to copy Yeoh, while the action is frenetic and plentiful.
Another cop tells Khan’s Rachel, “When you’re out on patrol, just remember three things; see a license plate take it, if you see a thief hide, and refuse to be made a scapegoat”. “What if you see a thief robbing”? “If it’s easy, do it. If it isn’t, run away”. Sounds like good advice. Of course a robber runs by while Rachel is getting verbal abuse from a man parked illegally as people gather round. After briefly pausing to rip part of her skirt in a great touch, she gives chase. Despite a mix up involving guns being held to heads, Rachel catches her quarry who fights back before being tied up. She’s seen by Commissioner John, who promptly makes her part of the Serious Crimes Unit. Meanwhile in Japan a fashion show is going on, guarded by cops Fujioka and Yamato who engage in banter about the job and practise gun pulling, but not for long as Genji and Michiko burst in with grenades and machine guns, killing loads of people and briefly taking the designer Yamamoto hostage. Chasing, gunplay and hanging on for dear life ensures, eventually resulting in Yamato being shot and falling from Fujioka’s grasp to his death. We get an emotional scene with Yamato’s wife and child [who wants to take revenge himself] at his grave, with Fujioka showing up. Back in Hong Kong, Chief Inspector Chung gathers together his team after a training exercise and tells them off for having too many unsolved cases, and Rachel tells him her lack of interest in this kind of thing, but Chung, being her uncle, wants to keep her away from as much of the action as possible. Now comes something rare in these films until the Category 3 craze came along; a sex scene, with even some breasts. Genji slaps Michiko, who pulls out a knife which she uses to slit both their wrists, a pact so they’ll die together. She licks the blood before the two go at it, his hand sometimes on her throat, her yanking off a bit of his hair. We get a real sense of a passionate, tempestuous relationship.
Full of guilt, Fujioka wants to go after Yamamoto seeing as his boss thinks that he’s involved in the robber, but, “He has close ties to Japanese politicians”, so boss says no. Yamamoto resigns and says he’ll “Investigate in a personal capacity”. So that’s Genji and Michiko, Yamamoto and Fujioka all heading from Japan to Hong Kong. At the airport, Fujioka is deemed suspicious by security officer Michael Wong [played by Melvin Wong, and not the character called Michael Wong who was played by Michael Wong in Royal Warriors], who happens to be an ex of Rachel’s, but of course responds badly to an arrest attempt. “Just humour him for a few days, then we’ll send him back to Tokyo” says Chung to Rachel concerning Fujioka, but Fujioka is on a mission and won’t be restrained, while there’s no time for any romantic shenanigans even if these two did fancy each other. Of course one wonders why he’s allowed to remain in Hong Kong after causing some considerable chaos, but then this is a film where a bloody great machine is hurtling towards somebody for a fair few seconds but the guy it’s about to hit only hears it and turns round at the last second. And where somebody bringing flowers can walk right into a police station and go into a room without any checks. Fujioka wants to find Yamamoto first, but it soon comes to light that Yamamoto gave Genji and Michiko fake diamonds, so now they’re after him as well, while another bad guy named Diamond Fence also makes an appearance, played by Dick Wei. All the characters are soon going to encounter each other in a final third of nonstop action. Royal Warriors placed the action scenes fairly evenly throughout the film but this one has most, though not all, of them in the last half an hour, though you can’t say that pacing still isn’t very fast throughout.
The action, done by five choreographers, isn’t quite as diverse as in Royal Warriors, but is perhaps even better crafted in its merging of guns and martial arts. Perhaps to differentiate her from Yeoh, even though she’s dubbed by the same person, Khan is given lots of wirework, a less grounded style to perform. This doesn’t always entirely come off because of the amount of edits required to disguise the fact that she’s often doubled, though it’s still not incoherent like a lot of modern Hollywood action and Khan does some amazing kicks of different varieties. After her opening scene, Rachel takes part in a warehouse raid. Father tells her to go the wrong way so she’s be safe, but she actually encounters a white chap [Stephen Berwick] who alternates fleeing with fighting in an exciting set piece which concludes in comedic fashion with the opponent jumping onto a tire on the back of a truck – only the tire is actually stationery and Rachel can catch up with him. There’s a night club shootout, plus two scenes of guns being fired at each other in cars, one of them ending with Fujioka destroying cars in a rather excessive fashion and Rachel back flipping over one. Khan and Wei have a brief duel around some parked cars, then her and another cop played by Benny Lau encounter Genji and Michiko beside a playground. Lau can’t fight, so its just Khan versus Wei and Nashiwaki for a short while until they’re interrupted. The rematch takes place in a factory, Khan facing off against each one at a time rather than both together apart from a small section, but considering the obvious superiority of Wei who fought Jackie Chan five times, it’s still a pretty good finale. The best fight, however, takes place before that, a grueling encounter between Fujioka and Stuart Ong in a boat hanger despite Fujioka being handcuffed, a harpoon being put to brutal use in a bloody, painful encounter. Interesting to have two Japanese characters battling each other, but then again, at the time the Japanese market was a major one for Hong Kong cinema, with Jackie Chan perhaps even more huge in Japan than he was in Hong Kong, so it’s no perhaps no wonder it was being catered for so much.
Comedic appearances from Charlie Chin, Eric Tsang, and Richard Ng [it’s been seven years since Winners And Sinners yet he still thinks that he can become invisible] don’t slow things down in this incredibly taut effort which rushes from scene to scene, transitioning with great economy. The laughs there are, such as Yamamoto’s two henchmen quitting then refusing to defend their ex-boss, yet there’s an increasing seriousness which is well managed, feeling like a natural evolving of the film. With the likes of a knife pinning a hand to a table and a bloody ran over corpse with intestines spilling out, the violence level gets quite high even if nothing nasty is dwelt upon. Much of it is dealt out by Fujioka, who’s a terrific presence, almost always threatening to explode, though it’s our two main villains who are the most interesting protagonists. They’re terrorists who have no regard for human life; in fact they’re basically psychopaths. Yet Genji is dying of some disease and the two do deeply love each other, even if it’s a tough love, which makes us not hate them as much as we probably should. When one of them is killed three quarters of the way through, we feel the other person’s pain. Stuart Ong and Nashiwaki have a lot of chemistry and Nashiwaki as is strange and sinister as usual. She was never much of an actress, but she had something which meant that she dominated the screen whenever she was on, and one feels that she was never used to her full advantage – which I guess weirdly means that maybe she could have acted very well indeed? Wong and Yuen don’t attempt to provide much style despite Wong being a hugely experienced and proficient cinematographer in Hong Kong cinema, but they do keep things rattling along, and there are some nice touches like the POV of a bomb being carried. The music score by Fei-lit Chan is a bit better than the ones for the previous two, if nothing special. Dramatic scenes are underscored reasonably well and the action is even raised to higher excitement at times due to the music.
In The Line Of Duty III is intense and wearing in the best way. It’s not as famous as its two predecessors because it doesn’t feature Yeoh, but by god Khan makes an incredible impression in her own right despite the decision to make her action less grounded, and therefore less believable in terms of the character – surely wire fu best belongs in period films?
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
In The Line Of Duty III receives a typically fine restoration. It’s more colourful a film visually than Royal Warriors, and the disc makes the most of this with lush hues, while also providing a considerable amount of depth. Blacks exhibit no crush and grain is evenly managed apart from a few shots.
Cantonese and English audio options (both in their original mono presentations)
I listened mostly to the Cantonese track, but did hear a few bits of the English dub, which isn’t bad.
Optional English Subtitles, newly translated for this release
Brand new feature length audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng
As usual, Djeng has no trouble going solo, even for a film about which there’s clearly little production information which must be quite difficult. He’s even refusing to repeat himself, instead referring to previous tracks rather than going over the same stuff again. He finds o much else to talk about, from Cantonese slang [“sue you with your pants down”!] to the onscreen action to interesting information such as Khan being harassed by the Triads possibly being a reason why she left filmmaking. Have a listen to the titles of some of the Category 3 films which Ong starred in. Djeng feels that this instalment is underrated, preferring it to the fourth one.
Brand new feature length audio commentary by action cinema experts Mike Leeder & Arne Venema
This might be one of their best ever tracks, the two on fire throughout, Beginning with Venema telling of a shopping mall near to a location which has a sign DO NOT BUT ANYTHING PIRATED, BEWARE OF THIEVES yet which sells loads of pirated gear, then Leedersaying how Japan lets you film where you want while Hong Kong is extremely strict.; Chat encompasses the yakuza, Fujioka now “raising interesting lizards”, Hong Kong’s airport, disco, and Lee Marvin getting shot in the arse, yet keeps reverting back to the film just as it should, with the duo also clearly regarding this film highly. Oh, and you get more titles of some of the Category 3 films which Ong starred in.
Reversible sleeve design
A Limited Edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing by James Oliver [2000 copies]
Despite probably being the least popular of its series, “In The Line Of Duty III” is no slouch whatsoever in the action stakes. Eureka’s disc isn’t a full one but it’s worth noting that they did intend to carry out interviews with both Khan and Nashiwaki for this and “In The Line Of Duty IV” but for some reason this didn’t work out. The two commentary tracks are as excellent as usual. Highly Recommended!