Time for another of our February festival reviews for our “Martial Arts Mayhem: Fighting Femmes Festival – 2016″, and this time one of those classics I told you I had on tap, 1985’s Hong Kong action fav, “Yes, Madam!” featuring the dynamic pairing of Michele Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock.
Our synopsis? “Investigating the murder of a rich Westerner, tough Hong Kong Senior Inspector Ng is forced to team up with equally tough Scotland Yard Inspector Carrie Morris to track down secret microfilm evidence that contains complete details of a triad boss and his gang’s illegal activities, evidence which has fallen into the hands of a trio of hapless bumbling thieves. Bullets flying, fists and kicks exploding, it’s a race to the finish to see who will find the microfilm first with the lives of those low level crooks always hanging in the balance.”
This one’s an old movie from waaay back in the day, and probably the inspiration for the torrent of “Tough Lady Cop” movies that ruled the late 80’s and early 90’s HK movie scene. Yours truly caught it back when I was in college as part of the wave of HK action films that began showing up here in the US. While maybe not the best of them, it most certainly made it’s mark and cemented the careers of both Michele Yeoh and her co-star Cynthia Rothrock as the ruling queens of HK action cinema. Been some time since I gave it a watch, so with our current theme festival underway, I dug my old Mei Ah Region 3 release out and decided it was time to see it again. Wanna share my cinematic memories? Then, by all means, “Read On” o’ Gentle Visitors! 😉
Early 80’s Hong Kong cinema was in a transition phase from the old school Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest films a seeking a new vibe when this one was made. It was also one of the first of the more recent Asian cinema films I got to see at the time when I first encountered them in college back in the day… up til then my exposure to Asian film had mostly been the badly dubbed Kung-Fu films of the 60’s and 70’s with a healthy flavoring of rubber-suited Japanese kaiju cinema thrown in that played on our TV when I was a wee girl. I’d always expected that there were more worthy films going on over there, but it wasn’t until college when I really got to find out about any of them. “Yes, Madam!” was for me one of the first… along with John Woo’s “The Killer” and Tsui Hark’s wonderful “A Chinese Ghost Story”. These were my initial glimpse into the cinema that this wee lady now pretty much makes her steady diet, movie wise. 😉
Watching this one again after so long was just plain weird… I had forgotten so much about it and seeing it now I was so struck by how much a product of it’s time it really was. Part of it was of course seeing Michelle Yeoh so young again… it’s her, but my goodness!! How truly “80’s” she looked back then, kind of like “Miami Vice”- Hong Kong style. 😉 But the very story itself also captures the wild, somewhat rough and uneven film plots of the Hong Kong cinema from way back then too.
What’s it all about? Well… basically the story revolves around two thieves, Asprin (played by Hoi Mang) and Strepsil (played by John Shum) who make their living, among other nefarious activities, stealing from hotel guests while disguised as room service guys. It’s a pretty good scam too, until they get accidentally involved in robbing the room of a wealthy foreigner named Richard Norten and stealing his passport. Problem is, they do it without knowing he’s been already been killed during a deal gone bad by a vicious hit man in the pay of local Triad boss Mr. Tin (played by James Tien). They barely escape the hotel one step ahead of both the vicious hit man (played by Dick Wei) and our beautiful cop Inspector Ng (played by Michelle Yeoh). What they don’t know is that the passport contains secret microfilm evidence of Tin’s nefarious activities and he’ll do just about anything including cold blooded murder to get it back. They, of course, pass that stolen passport along to their forger friend Panadol (played by director Tsui Hark of “A Chinese Ghost Story” fame) and that pretty much sets up the rest of out story as everybody tries to catch them and get their hands on that evidence.
Richard Norten was a British citizen, so naturally they dispatch an officer to join the investigation, Scotland Yard Inspector Carrie Morris (played by Cynthia Rothrock). We get that usual prickly introduction as our two tough lady cops spar over jurisdiction, methodology, and general rivalry. You’ve seen “Lethal Weapon”? Then you basically get the idea… only with lots more estrogen and Martial Arts thrown in… 😉
Mostly our uneven plot wobbles back and forth between this police procedural action story and the more slapstick comedy tale of our three bumbling crooks, never quite deciding if it’s a tense dramatic action film or a light-hearted HK crime farce. But that’s OK… it’s not really why we’re watching this one anyways. Nope, we’re here to watch our two female leads go from one amazing stunt filled fight scene to the next, giving us a chance for them to wow us with their amazing Martial Art skills. That they do, indeed…
Thank goodness, because neither of our heroines really wows us with their acting skills in this one. Still… you have to remember that Michelle Yeoh was just starting out her career and has thankfully come a long long way since these early days. Cynthia Rothrock? Well… she was, and still probably is, an absolutely amazing Martial Artist and although she never really improved as an actress, she’s always been one of those people with an undefinable charisma that goes a long way towards making up for her lack of acting range. In short, the ladies more than hold their own throughout, making the film an enjoyable bit of bone crunching eye candy, especially in their final big fight scene at Mr. Tin’s palatial lair. (Filled with plenty of that other big HK 80’s stunt favorite… smashing people though big ol’ honking glass thingees…. gotta love that!)
So, with our story pretty much a standard by-the-numbers old favorite, a whole dollop of occasionally off-color HK humor and slapstick comedy, and a goodly number of well choreographed fight scenes to give us our action, “Yes, Madam!” is still a good basic film, overall. While not innovative or groundbreaking, it’s not embarrassing either, even if it’s portrayal of “strong women” is awfully stereotypically sexist and played fairly broad and cardboard. But… hey… it was a start, and for the most part both Carolyn and I enjoyed this little “blast from the past”. Even if I am now having some serious “Miami Vice” flashbacks….
For it’s cheesy, dated and totally predictable story, I can truthfully only give “Yes, Madam!” a barely passing rating, but then, ultimately the well done action sequences and stage presence of both our heroines brings it up to a respectable 3 “Meows” out of 5. Heck… I’ll admit it… I’d enjoy seeing Michelle Yeoh yank two bad guys through a big ol’ glass balcony any day of the week. Throw in a spunky blonde sidekick kicking idiots in the head repeatedly and I’m sold. I’m just that sort of lady…. 😉
DVD? Well… like I said, I watched this on an old Region 3 Mei Ah release out of HK, but I’m pretty certain you ought to be able to find a copy fairly easily in whatever Region or neck of the woods you might find yourselves in o’ Gentle Visitors. While not a great movie, it does truly deserve the title of “Martial Art Classic” and for most of us, that’s damn good enough. 🙂
Trailer? Why yes, of course! From the UK, where this particular one is also known as “Police Assassins”… (although for sheer giggles, I still prefer the goofy Japanese title… “Lady Hard: Great Hong Kong Criminal Investigation”) 😉