In The Line of Duty is a film series that fans of Hong Kong cop action movies might be familiar with, though you might not be aware that you are thanks to some weird shenanigans with the naming of the series. Originally beginning as the Michelle Yeoh film Yes, Madam!, a sequel called Royal Warriors was released the following year. After Yeoh retired from film for a while following her marriage, the producers wanted to continue on the hit series. This is where In The Line of Duty III comes in. Having retroactively re-named the other two films to make them the first and second parts of the franchise, this third film introduced viewers to a new star in the form of Cynthia Khan (real name Yang Li-tsing). With the other two films now established as the start of this new franchise, it’s up to Khan to breathe new life into the series.
In The Line of Duty III begins strong, introducing viewers to their new heroine, police officer Rachel Yeung (Cynthia Khan) as she chases a criminal down the streets of Hong Kong, getting into a fist fight with him, tearing her uniform skirt open in order to perform some impressive kicks, and deals with an armed stand-off. Within ten minutes Yeung has been established as a young cop who’s not just prepared to sit around and take the easy life like her partner, and will rush into danger to uphold the law. From here the film begins its real story, as two Japanese Red Army members launch a campaign of terror across the city.
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Throughout the film Yeung is forced to push for inclusion on the case with her over protective uncle, who also happens to be her boss, whilst also being the most competent officer they have. Yeung has several run-ins with the criminal duo, and is eventually partnered up with a Japanese cop, Hiroshi Fujioka (also the name of the actor) who’s come to Hong Kong looking for revenge against the duo over the death of his partner.
In The Line of Duty III is the kind of film that will appeal to fans of 80’s cop action movies. The film has plenty of shoot-outs and explosions to keep the action fans happy, with some really cool and ridiculous moments such as the criminals piloting a remote control helicopter packed with explosives into a hospital, that feels more akin to a cheesy Bond movie. Where the film really excels, however, is in the fighting. Yeoh is a tough act to follow, but Khan seems more than up for the challenge. The scenes in which she’s able to cut loose and fight the villains are the highlights of the movie, and you can see her experience as a dancer coming through in the fluidity of her movements and the stunts she pulls off. There’s a sequence with several crashed cars where Khan slips in and out of them, and hangs off the edges without touching the ground in order to avoid detection, that’s incredibly impressive just from how easy the actress manages to make everything look.
Whilst the film does side-line Khan somewhat in order to hand focus over to her male co-star, the times she is on screen are exceptional. Khan has an easy confidence and presence in her scenes that makes her more than – as some people have described her – a ‘Michelle Yeoh replacement’. It’s clear watching this film that the actress is going to go on to have a long career in film.
In The Line of Duty IV sees Khan return, this time dealing with the evil machinations of the CIA. This time round Madam Yeung has been sent over to the US to help tackle Chinese cocaine dealers. Along with her new partner, Captain Donnie Yan (Donnie Yen), Yeung ends up getting caught up in a plot that sees the CIA selling drugs in order to fund their war against communism (absolutely fictitious of course, the CIA would never, ever do something so heinous) when an illegal immigrant, Luk Wan-ting (Yat Chor Yuen) accidentally comes into possession of incriminating evidence.
When Luk smuggles himself back to Hong Kong after a failed attempt on his life that kills his friend, Yeung and Yan follow after him. Now they have to make a choice: whether they follow their orders to bring him in (orders that will deliver him into the hands of the people out to kill him), or whether they go rogue in order to bring the criminals to justice.
In The Line of Duty IV feels like a big step up over the other film, and features some absolutely phenomenal moments. Khan in particular gets a fight scene that is astonishing to watch, as she takes on some thugs trying to take over the ambulance she’s riding in. Khan battles on the roof of the moving vehicle, hangs half out the smashed windows, and grips onto the front fender as it tries to run her over, all whilst the vehicle is speeding along. It’s a scene that really highlights some of the differences between Hong Kong action films over US ones. In US movies you’ll see the moments where it’s a stunt performer, or you’ll catch glimpses of the harness keeping the actors safe, or half the scene will be shot so that you can’t tell the vehicle isn’t really in motion. But here it’s hard to see the moments where Khan would be wearing a harness, and it really does look like she’s hanging half out of a speeding vehicle.
Later scenes in the film also impress, particularly with Donnie Yen in the mix now too. Yen sometimes got pushed to the forefront of the posters and home release covers for the film thanks to his fame in the US, but it never feels like he’s trying to take anything away from his female co-star in this film. The two of them work well together, and both get some intense fight scenes that showcase their skills. Perhaps more so than the previous movie, this one also manages to find a balance between action and comedy, due in part to the addition of Yat Chor Yuen’s Luk, who plays a pretty normal guy dragged into an extreme situation.
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Both releases come with very little extras in terms of behind the scenes features of making-ofs. They do come with a pair of trailers each, as well as two commentary tracks. Both films come with a track by Asian film expert Frank Djeng (a mainstay on Eureka releases) who goes into the history of the films, the careers of the cast and crew, and gives a lot of additional context to what you’re watching. There is also a commentary for each with action cinema experts Mike Leeder and Arne Venema. In The Line of Duty IV does fare a little better than its predecessor, coming with some archival interviews and featurettes.
Overall, fans of Hong Kong action films, and action films in general will find a lot to enjoy with these releases. Despite the weirdness of the series’ releases and the attempts to retroactively create a franchise, both films are great pieces and deserve to be watched. The ‘rule’ that sequels tend to diminish in quality over time definitely doesn’t apply here, as both films are a great watch, with the fourth one being the best of the two.
In The Line of Duty III and IV are out on Blu-ray on 20th March from Eureka Entertainment.