In the Line of Duty (1986)
Director: David Chung
Writers: Kan-Cheung Tsang
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Michael Wong, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Jing Chen.

The Plot: Film begins with Michelle Yip (Michelle Yeoh) quickly laying the smack down on a group of thugs who try to murder a former member of their gang. Afterward, the film quickly turns serious we watch as Michelle boards a plane alongside security expert Michael (Michael Wong) and Japanese interpol agent Yamamoto (played by Hiroyuki Sanada). When a hijacker tries to rescue a gangster who is being deported on the same plane ride, all hell breaks loose! Thankfully, these three crime fighting experts happen to be along for the ride and they quickly subdue the situation and become great friends. The alliance formed between them shouldn’t last terribly long, but when members of their group become targeted by the terrorists, they must team together and find out who exactly was behind the attempted airline holdup and what exactly do they want. Their findings will be both horrifying and ultimately… tragic.

The Review
The Girls With Guns genre is a fickle area to write anything definitive about because it requires a great deal of research. A certainly level of research that I am only in the beginning stages of undertaking, and without speaking the language or being able to conduct interviews – I will likely never be able to fully grasp or understand the context of this genre within Hong Kong cinema. In the Line of Duty isn’t the first movie to establish this particular style of movie, it may not even be the first movie in this series (I’ll get to that in a minute), but it is certainly a big title within the history of Hong Kong cinema. Putting Michelle Yeoh further on the map, as well as quickly becoming a part of the new wave of Hong Kong action films, which were uprooting themselves from the dominant use of period locations at the time, mainstream audiences may not remember these important films as much as Hong Kong film fans do – but it is a series that should be celebrated. This first (or second) entry is a showcase for a particular era within Hong Kong cinema, when filmmakers were figuring out ways to both include gunplay into the world of martial arts cinema and deal with them accordingly. Beginning the decade with movies like Aces Go Places and some of Jackie Chan’s mainstream work, this was a pivotal time for Hong Kong cinema. The world saw a dramatic number of quality action films come from this time period, and In the Line of Duty is certainly one of those movies.

Featuring a fantastic cast, you truly can’t beat these movies when it comes to pairing actors and actresses. Michelle Yeoh, Michael Wong, Chan Wai-Man, and many others, all show up and put on a great show. Michelle Yeoh is, of course, the main draw in the film. Impossibly young in this role, she is in top form during her action sequences. The young actress steps into her starring role with gusto and she manages to prove herself a star with seemingly little difficulty. She manages to show off charm in a way that would prove to be typical for Yeoh. Whether she is jovial and uplifting or if she is required to dig deep and go into an emotional area, she is always able to deliver for the camera. Indeed, during the start of this film it seems as if everything is headed into a very lighthearted romp, but as soon as the guns start to pop up – we know that this movie has the potential to go to some much darker places. There is a semi-humorous love affair that begins between Michelle Yeoh and the ever-goofy Michael Wong, and this ties up a considerable amount of time during the early half of the movie, but the dark dramatic turns that come from Hiroyuki Sanada’s character-arch are enough to give the film a heavy degree of pathos. This review will remain spoiler-free, but there are some twists within Sanada’s storyline that takes the movie very far away from its humorous beginnings. This becomes a very serious action thriller of sorts somewhere around the middle of the movie, and the actors all commit and deliver upon the needs this dramatic tension.

The action is of course a very large part in a movie like this one, and In the Line of Duty manages to prove itself almost immediately. Michelle Yeoh is given the chance to introduce herself to the audience via two back-to-back action sequences at the very start of the movie, something that is very appreciated. The open for the movie features Michelle Yeoh running afoul a group of young punks who intend to bully some poor sap who has tried to quit their gang, but as anyone might expect, Yeoh doesn’t take kindly to bullying. This small fight sequence turns out to be one of the most memorable scenes within the movie because it does numerous things well. First, it introduces us to Michelle and how tough she is. Second, the campy feel to the scene stands out heavily when compared to the intense violence and drama unleashed during the second half. Thirdly, it shows the level of action and athleticism that will be on display within the movie. Yeoh, known for doing her own stunts, shows off several unbelievable moves within this minor action sequence; including a bit where she does a leg scissors that disables the weapon-hand of one villain. It’s a quick shot, but it has to be seen in order to be believed. Following this up, the very next action sequence introduces the audience to another particular style of action. It shows off some very modern threats and introduces some very brutal gunfire into the mix. During this bit we get to see a potential airline takeover that is thankfully defused by our three main leads, and the remainder of the movie relies heavily on this sequence in terms of founding the basic plot for the film. So, to say that In the Line of Duty starts off strong would be a bit of an understatement.

The forming of sequels within the In the Line of Duty series can be a bit of a handful to try and decipher. Made in 1986, In the Line of Duty is touted as being the first movie in this series, which is probably the correct way to look at it. However, somehow the 1985 vehicle Yes, Madam (which featured Michelle Yeoh alongside Cynthia Rothrock) was tied in with this series and is called by the name In the Line of Duty II. So, in essence, In the Line of Duty might even be considered Yes, Madam 2. After this point, the Duty films would take their name craft a number of sequels all the way up until In the Line of Duty VII. As a funny side note, in 1995, Cynthia Khan (who replaced Michelle Yeoh on In the Line of Duty 3, and took her name from CYNTHIA Rothrock and Michelle Yeoh’s former stagename Cynthia KHAN) would star in a completely unrelated movie that was also referred to as Yes, Madam. Why all of the confusion? I am not entirely sure, but regardless of the names, there are a few pretty fantastic films to be found within the In the Line of Duty lineage. Speaking for our film today, aside from Michelle Yeoh’s respected position within this film, there are few connections between the stories within In the Line of Duty and Yes, Madam. Still, that never stopped a producer from starting up a franchise!

The Conclusion
Overall, the action is spectacular. The performances are everything that they need to be. From a technical standpoint, I couldn’t ask for more from the movie. Indeed, In the Line of Duty is a great movie. It has a few moments where the plot seems a bit too contrived, but for the most part, there is nothing but fun to be had with this movie. It gets a solid four out of five from this reviewer. Certainly check it out!

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