Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter revisits the first (second?) entry in Hong Kong’s In the Line of Duty action series.
While Hollywood has its fair share of female-led action films, the majority came about in the past couple decades. Hong Kong got a jump on the US, though, both in quantity and quality, thanks in large part to 1985’s Yes, Madam!. Corey Yuen’s action hit is a buddy cop film with two lethal ladies at the front of the action, and in addition to kicking off the “girls with guns” subgenre, it also became the first film in the popular In the Line of Duty franchise.
88 Films recently released arguably the best box-set of the year (so far) collecting the first four films in the series, and while the highlights are the movies themselves, the set is loaded with new and old extras too. That includes new commentaries for each film, so of course we’re giving them a listen. Now keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for Yes, Madam!
Yes, Madam (1985)
Commentator: Frank Djeng (Hong Kong film expert)
1. Michelle Yeoh is introduced as “the only Bond girl not to shag James Bond,” but I call shenanigans on that Olga Kurylenko erasure.
2. D&B Films Co. was, at the time, the third-largest film studio in Hong Kong.
3. Royal Warriors (1986), also starring Yeoh, was released in Hong Kong a year later, but once the In the Line of Duty series moniker came into play the order was switched internationally — Royal Warriors became In the Line of Duty, and Yes, Madam became In the Line of Duty II. It gets even more confusing… “in the UK, Yes, Madam was released as Police Assassin on DVD, but Police Assassin 2 on VHS, while Royal Warriors was Police Assassin on VHS and never even got a DVD release.”
4. The opening street sequence was filmed at a popular shopping plaza also used in Jackie Chan’s Police Story that same year.
5. The standard terms of respect in the Hong Kong police — Madam, Sir — are no more as the Chinese government made changes in May 2022 requiring the terms to be spoken in Chinese only.
6. Melvin Wong, who plays Chief Inspector Wong, frequently plays villains and is also a lawyer in real life. Coincidence? Probably.
7. Dick Wei studied martial arts from an early age before joining the military and attaining the rank of Captain. Once out, he found work at a martial arts studio where he was discovered by legendary director Chang Cheh and convinced to try out for the movies. He started out with Shaw Brothers studio before joining Golden Harvest and Sammo Hung‘s stunt team.
8. Mang Hoi plays a petty thief here and was also a member of Hung’s stunt team. One of his earliest roles is a young teenager in Enter the Dragon (1973) who gets a pat on the head from Bruce Lee. He served as action director/coordinator on numerous films including Royal Warriors, Legacy of Rage (1986) with Brandon Lee, and 1990’s She Shoots Straight — and he also choreographed the fights in Yes, Madam. He won a Best Supporting Actor award and the Hong Kong Film Awards, but while his work here was also nominated for Best Action, the film lost to Police Story.
9. Yeoh moved to England as a teenager to study dance at London’s Royal Academy, but a ballet career was cut short after she injured her back. After winning 1990’s Miss Malaysia contest — her mother apparently entered her without telling her in advance — she was spotted by talent scouts and cast in a commercial opposite Jackie Chan. That ad quickly led to film roles, and then she won the Academy Award for 2022’s Everything Everywhere All at Once. Sounds easy enough, but the years between Miss Malaysia and the Oscar saw ups and downs in her film career with that Western recognition being a long time coming.
10. Filmmaker Tsui Hark has a small but memorable role as a counterfeiter here despite having already directed eight films of his own by this point including the madcap We’re Going to Eat You (1980), the controversial Dangerous Encounter of the First Kind (1980), and the epic Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983). He gave himself the first name Hark which means “overcoming” as in overcoming life’s various obstacles.
11. The film’s action scenes only total around fifteen minutes out of the movie’s ninety-three minute running time. That’s arguably why this is the weakest of the first four In the Line of Duty films despite the highs of the Yeoh/Cynthia Rothrock team-up.
12. The airport scene was filmed at a now defunct Kowloon airport that was known as the sixth most dangerous airport in the world due to the layout of its runway and proximity of the surrounding water.
13. The character of Inspector Carrie Morris (Rothrock) was originally written for a man, but director Corey Yuen saw Rothrock’s unrelated audition and switched things up to cast her in the role instead. No word as to why an American woman is an inspector with England’s Scotland Yard, though.
14. Filmmaker Fruit Chan (Three… Extremes, 2004) cameos as the blue-shirted fool in the pool hall.
15. Yuen cameos as the mustachioed cop in the pink shirt at 1:33:53.
16. Dickson Poon, the main partner in D&B Films, came from a super wealthy family whose fortune was built on jewelry and other luxury items. He had no film experience, but a love for cinema and a partnership with Sammo Hung led to the creation of D&B Films which produced seventy-seven movies. Poon married Yeoh in 1988, but the couple divorced in 1991.
17. Rothrock is a five-time World Champion in Forms and Weapons, and some of her first-place wins in Forms were against men as there was no female category at the time.
18. The score is by Romeo Diaz (Righting Wrongs, 1986; Once Upon a Time in China, 1991), but yes, it does lift parts of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) score wholesale.
19. Rothrock apparently caught Dick Wei with a real kick to the face during an earlier fight, so he chose to use a stunt double for the beat at 1:26:50 where she gives him a scorpion kick to the face.
20. Yuen applies a slight undercranking to some of the fights here — shooting the scene at a lower speed, so that it appears faster when played at normal speed — but that’s a fairly common technique for Hong Kong films.
The disc also includes scene specific commentary with Djeng and Rothrock during the fight scenes at the airport and the big finale.
21. The airport fight between Rothrock and Eddie Maher was choreographed on the spot, and she was at the mercy of language barriers and the pressure of being on her first film. She elbows Maher in the stomach to kick off the fight, and they did multiple takes. “Eddie was like, ‘don’t hit me so hard!’ Corey’s like, ‘harder, harder!’” The kick off the wall was a new move for her, understandably, and it took her forty-five minutes of trial and error to get right — and then they did multiple takes.
22. The house interior for the final fight was constructed in an empty building, and they filmed for nearly a month straight. Filming the beat where she does the split on the wall saw her up there for three hours, “and I couldn’t walk for like three days, my muscles were so sore.” Apparently Sylvester Stallone didn’t/doesn’t believe that the stunt performer flipping the railing, hitting the opposite wall, and then falling to the floor is a real person. “I said ‘I was there, that was a real person.’” The scorpion kick was one of Rothrock’s creations for her own demonstrations, and Yuen loved it so much he had her do it for the finale.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“He has done some amazing stunts including getting kicked by Sammo.”
“We have the Stanley Tucci of Hong Kong there.”
“That’s probably unintentional, but hell, it looks good.”
“You do the crime, you do the time.”
“He wasn’t the most flexible person.”
There’s no denying that Frank Djeng knows his shit when it comes to Hong Kong action cinema. He may have some biographical notes prepared in advance, but it’s just as clear that he can pull talent names, both in Chinese and English, from his memory at will alongside details about Hong Kong’s geography and history. That knowledge adds context and rich detail to Yes, Madam!‘s production, and it makes for an engaging and interesting listen. Looking forward to checking out the next three in 88 Films’ spectacular box set.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.