Action / Adventure, Films, Hong Kong, Martial arts, Recommended posts, Reviews

Yes, Madam!

The inspectors wear shotguns, pistols, knives, swords and whatever else they please…

Corey Yuen should get more credit for the work he has directed over the years. For every Cradle 2 The Grave, he gives us Fong Sai-yuk. For every The Twins Effect II he punches out, he crafts Dragons Forever. Every time he falters, he comes back with something good. His action is fast, quickly edited. His plots never work as well as you would hope but then again, they don’t need to. So prolific is his work in the 80’s Hong Kong film industry, he helped invent an entire sub-genre: the girls with guns trope. While the situations vary, most have lead female actors with gunplay mixed with traditional martial arts as the main draw. The Inspector Wears Skirts is theoretically part of the original run of the trope as is Royal Warriors, In The Line of Duty III and IV, Middle Man, Forbidden Arsenal and Sea Wolves. But the one that started it all is Yuen’s 1985 buddy cop actioner, Yes, Madam! (or Police Assassins as it’s known over here) starring Michelle Yeoh and US martial arts actor Cynthia Rothrock.

Senior Inspector Ng (Yeoh) is trying to deal with the standard problems that seemed to afflict Hong Kong cops in 80’s cinema: streakers, armoured car robberies and her boss (Melvin Wong) constantly flirting with her. On top of that, her old friend and lover from Scotland Yard, Richard Nornen (Michael Harry in a truly thankless role) just got into town and got himself killed by an assassin (Dick Wei, sporting aviator shades everywhere) working for Mr. Tin (James Tien) who doesn’t want the microfilm Richard had to become public knowledge. Of course, assassinations never work well in HK cinema so Asprin (Hoi Mang) and Strepsil (John Shum), two budding hotel thieves accidentally steal Richard’s passport and the microfilm along with it (well, he wasn’t going to need it). They take the passport to their chum Panadol (Tsui Hark!) who proceeds to not notice he’s got the microfilm (he’s a master document forger, by the way). All hell breaks loose when the assassin starts tracking the trio without knowing all the details. When Scotland Yard finds out about Richard’s death, they send Senior Inspector Carrie Norris (Rothrock) to find out the details. Carrie and Ng clash straight away but they’ve got bigger things to worry about.

The plot of Yes, Madam! is rather by the numbers and will not hold much in the way of surprises for either veterans or casual viewers of HK cinema. The fact is that this much damage happens looking for one piece of microfilm and all Ng’s boss worries about is when Tin’s lawyer threatens to sue the department for Carrie and Ng arresting Tin. In fact, when both girls go “off the ranch” and start dealing with Tin their way, you actually think “wow, finally somebody did something that made sense.” The comedy moments are always ridiculous, frequently as they happen with the trio of goofballs, and sometimes feel kind of out of place next to people being slapped around or sent flying with a roundhouse kick to the head. The three main comedy leads sometimes overshadow our heroes in an attempt by Yuen to get us to like them which doesn’t work. Oddly, the cameo appearance of their mentor (Sammo Hung!) along with Jackie Chan regular Richard Ng amounts to the funniest moment in the film which doesn’t say a lot. The same goes for that one kook who the police are constantly arresting who bookends a police station scene by cheering on our heroes only to be slapped over the head by his arresting officer and dragged away. The less said about Asprin and Strepsil’s attempts to hustle a famous Hong Kong snooker player the better. It just doesn’t work. Dick Wei is stuck on Terminator mode the whole film and only that he didn’t try and walk about a burning building is my only proof he was human. James Tien as Tin is in a laughing mode the entire time. I’m serious, he spends half his time smirking and the other half explosively laughing in the face of the authorities. In a bizarre turn of events, in the final act the film switches the drama from Carrie and Ng to the three friends and the comedy from them back to the women. It’s really weird and tonally uneven to say the least.

So, why should you watch this? Well, for one thing, the film is packed full of genuinely great characters designed to appeal to as broad a spectrum as possible. From the three old mentor characters and their quest for greasy chicken to Dick Wei balletically leaping his way from one killing to another, the cast gives it their all. Full props go to James Tien who masterfully takes on the role of a comic book villain and decided the script simply didn’t have enough mustache twirling. Tin’s run goes from shadowy crime boss to running Dr. No-esque shenanigans in his country house where the final act takes place. Rothrock had never done a Hong Kong action film before this and while all her lines were overdubbed later, her martial art work here is exemplary with full contact kicks and punches, throwing herself into scenes and then being thrown around in scenes. The fight between her and the thug in the airport (Eddie Maher) is excellent, works through quick camera moves and even quicker edits and comes as the crowning moment in a scene where Maher had thrown most of the HK police around the airport while sprinting at full speed toward the exit. Michelle Yeoh had never done major action work before this but completely earned her title as Queen of Hong Kong action here, especially in the brutal fight in the end with Dick Wei and Chung Fat (as Mad Dog) alongside Rothrock. The somersault backwards into a balcony pane of glass while dispatching two foes is available online if you doubt her (then) nascent skills. Also, the architecture and look of Hong Kong in 1985 is on display as a background. I personally have fond memories discovering Hong Kong through the films Wong kar-wai and Jackie Chan so whenever I can revisit it, it’s a pleasure. From its streets and offices to Tin’s fortress country house, Yes, Madam never drops its illusions for a second no matter how ridiculous. Couple that with Michelle Yeoh’s fashion choices and the amount of hair mousse used by everyone on the film and it’s a great cinematic time capsule.

The action as mentioned above is the main draw of the film. Corey Yuen may not always get his films right but he’s never disappointing in knowing what to do with his cast when he puts them in danger. Here, there’s a logical reason for the police to engage in gunfights and fistfights with the bad guys. Because in the world of Yes, Madam the bad guys shoot first and ask questions later. So our heroes have to be faster and better at their game as a result. The action scenes themselves are well shot and frequently try to destroy as much public property as possible. Where the film might have been improved is either dropping the comedy with the three thieves or amping up the drama earlier in the film. But alas, it is what it is. Luckily in this film, Yuen pairs two completely different actors, two completely different brawling styles and it works so well. Rothrock and Yeoh don’t spend time learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses, they don’t have bloody time for that. Dick Wei is trying to kill them or a low-level punk is trying to beat them up. So we see how both of them work separately in the first act and push them against each other as their styles and methods clash and finally, harmonise them both as the free for all in the last fight has them mixing it up to deal with different villains and levels of villainy. Yuen shoots Yeoh in tight angles and close up shots and has her moving through the bad guys with a “yeah, I could care less about your kung fu skills, boys” attitude. She is a great movie cop and an even better 80’s era one at that. For Rothrock, he chooses wide angle shots of her coming down on her opponents with solid, one-try punches and kicks. She has never looked better in a HK flick that she did here. While in other films she made have better action or dialogue, Yuen makes sure the audience will love his western lead as much as his Asian one. For a better look at her skills, I’d recommend The Inspector Wears Skirts or Righting Wrongs to the curious.

A classic of Hong Kong cinema in every sense of the word from its strengths to its foibles, Yes, Madam is the best intro to both lead actors and if you’re curious when you watch a bad Corey Yuen film if he did anything better, this is a good place to start.

Home media details

Distributor: CMS Media Limited (Hong Kong)

Edition: Blu-ray (2011)

The blu-ray of this is, I think, the only English friendly hi-def version available to fans but don’t go thanking anyone yet. This is clearly an upscaled print, probably used for HDTV and later DVD editions of the film but not close to adequate for blu-ray. The print is soft and fine detail is noticeably absent. Absolutely no effort has been made to do the film justice and yes, I know it’s a film from the 80’s but other films from the same era and from the same region have been cleaned up before so why couldn’t CMS? On the plus side, like a lot of HK upscales no DNR (digital noise reduction) has been applied so at least the film looks like a film should. The English subtitles range from OK to so downright weird that they frequently require a lot of mental acrobatics to figure out what it being said and I have an advantage in that I own the Hong Kong Legends DVD of this. But it’s not completely confusing so you will be able to enjoy it. Audio is in the form of a truly lackluster Dolby TrueHD 7.1 in Cantonese which fails at a 7.1 experience but at least sounds clear and a Mandarin Dolby EX 5.1 (they still master with this ?) that does its job and that’s about it. The disc is Region A only.

Speaking of the HKL disc, it can be found online for cheap if you’re unable to import the HK blu-ray and while it doesn’t have a commentary track from then resident HKL expert Bey Logan, the picture and dubbing options are a bit improved over, say, Youtube rips. I can’t say if the UK DVD is better picture quality over the HK blu-ray. Your actual mileage may vary.

About the author

Phillip O'ConnorPhillip O'Connor Phillip O'Connor
A fan of anime, it helped me to find Hong Kong Action films and later Japanese and Korean cinema. Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Chung, they all became my guides to Asian cinema. At the same time, HKL reawakened in me the desire to watch films again... More »
Read all posts by Phillip O'Connor

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