High-flying, Hong Kong-produced action helped to propel people like Michelle Yeoh, Cynthia Rothrock, Cynthia Khan and Donnie Yen to international stardom. 88 Films has compiled some of their best work with In the Line of Duty I-IV, a limited-edition box set filled with hours upon hours of ass-kicking fun of the highest order. This set is packed with value, including HD presentations of each film, multiple cuts of select titles, original and English audio tracks, commentaries with subject matter experts and plenty of additional supplements to further your appreciation of the films included. This set comes Highly Recommended!
Yes, by now you should know where the woman in Everything Everywhere All at Once came from. And if you don’t, then you’re just ignoring some of the greatest action films ever produced. I’d even go as far to say that Yeoh’s unique presence showcases just how much US action films are failing their stars, but that’s an argument for another time. I’ve written before on Yes, Madam! and Royal Warriors before, so I’m including excerpts from those reviews to get us kicked off.
“You needn’t look far into the film’s production credits to see why Yes, Madam! was so successful. Right behind the scenes was none other than Sammo Hung, the Hong Kong martial arts filmmaking master with deservedly, a reputation for not being a feminist’s greatest ally. He was working with Dickson Poon, a co-owner of the newly minted D&B Films, to refresh the theatrical market with some new blood. Luckily for the audience, that new blood came in the form of Michelle Yeoh, the steely, fierce ballet dancer and model who impressed industry peons like Sammo Hung and skyrocketed to international stardom.
Yeoh wasn’t even the only martial arts legend to have her first starring role in Yes, Madam! Cynthia Rothrock, after being discovered by Golden Harvest in 1983, also injected new blood into the martial arts genre with her ass-kicking talents. The duo of Yeoh and Rothrock would continue to try to be emulated and copied by other filmmakers. Although Rothrock would return to the US for a string of efficient releases produced for the home video market, she remains a unique US-born talent that gained respect and notoriety in the Chinese film industry. A feat that not many can speak to, if any.” 4/5
“Although the Hong Kong girls-with-guns genre saw a new lease on life after the smash success Yes, Madam!, that film was anything but the straightforward female-led action movie it’s been celebrated as. Producers John Sham and Sammo Hung didn’t foresee a lot of return from a female-led buddy cop comedy, so they retooled the script and turned it into a rollicking action comedy that takes much of the main narrative focus away from stars Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock. Luckily, though, that success must have meant something to John Sham, as Royal Warriors puts Yeoh front and center with a tighter script and even wilder martial arts action courtesy of Hoi Mang (one of Sammo Hung’s frequent collaborators). That doesn’t even speak to the level of technical talent behind the production, as filmmaker Johnnie To was the 2nd unit director.” 4.5/5
Taiwanese actress Cynthia Khan takes over for Michelle Yeoh in In the Line of Duty III, which is markedly a much sillier movie than its predecessors. Khan stars as Rachel Yeung, a police cadet on the hunt for Japanese terrorists from the Red Army, finds herself at odds with her bumbling uncle, who happens to be her captain. But when Rachel and a Japanese cop (Hiroshi Fujioka) team to take down the terrorists, the movie lets loose for a blisteringly violent finale that will have you wincing at just how much physical damage people are dealing each other. Otherwise, this is a middling affair that lacks Yeoh’s ability to cut through the usual Hong Kong genre hallmarks. 3/5
Now, In the Line of Duty IV, talk about finding your footing again four entries into a loosely connected film series. Yeun Woo-Ping, a hugely talented filmmaker and stunt coordinator, gets the helm in this story of Cynthia Khan in Seattle after some drug smugglers, and this time Donnie Yen is here and plays a hotheaded cop with a sadistic bloodlust. The humor that usually shows up is replaced with adrenaline-fueled action in nearly every other scene, constantly keeping the audience on their toes and not paying attention to the somewhat-thin storyline underneath. And at 95 minutes, it’s all very economical and respectful of the audience’s time. 4/5
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
In the Line of Duty I-IV comes with a hardbox with artwork by Sean Longmore. The box contains four slim Blu-ray cases, one for each film, plus two reversible fold-out posters and a 100-page book. Each film gets a BD50 disc and reversible sleeve artwork. All discs boot up to a menu with standard navigation options.
All four features are sourced from 2K restorations provided by Fortune Star, all with the MPEG-4 encode and certainly pulling the most out of the sometimes-problematic sources. That isn’t to say that the video quality across the board is bad, but these Fortune Star restorations tend to look a bit too flat and smooth to be considered true to the sources they used to scan. However, 88 Films make all the transfers look great nonetheless.
To my eyes, Yes, Madam! is no different than the presentation on the Eureka UK Blu-ray release, therefore here’s my review from that one:
“To be honest, I was a great deal nervous about this release since the new 2K restoration was performed by Fortune Star and not Eureka Entertainment themselves. Fortune Star used to release some upscaled SD masters on Blu-ray in the early 2010s, although their masters have greatly increased in quality since then. And this new 1080p AVC-encoded presentation is indicative of that growth, thankfully. This is a really nice and clean presentation, with film grain being a bit lighter than anticipated, although the levels change during optical effects and the title sequence.
The source is in very good condition with not much damage to note throughout. If you’re wondering about the overall color grading on this one, rest assured knowing all the bold colors of Hong Kong in the mid-80s pops just enough. Flesh tones are nice and balanced, as are black levels. Pastels in particular stand out but don’t overtake the picture. This is a massive upgrade over the 2011 Blu-ray from Hong Kong.
The International Export Version of Yes, Madam! is also included in this set and reportedly sourced from another 2K restoration. The quality is very much the same as the Theatrical Cut, although it does tend to look a bit softer in certain sequences.” 4/5
The same goes for Royal Warriors, which I reviewed earlier as well:
“Royal Warriors arrives in 1080p with a 1.85:1-framed, AVC-encoded presentation that certainly pulls the most out of the 2K restoration supplied by Fortune Star. Although I expected a bit of softness to the image because of the production value for a film of that era and location, I was quite impressed by the really well-balanced contrast and light layer of grain over everything. Optical titles and effects drop in clarity a bit, though not nearly as much as I expected. Colors are rich and resolved well during brighter sequences, like a neon-riddled nightclub filled with smoke that easily obfuscates what’s going on in the frame. I didn’t notice any black crush in the darker scenes and the source looks to be in really good condition, with very few notes of print damage found throughout. Even comparing this release to the German Blu-ray from late 2022 reveals the Eureka to be a true winner.” 3.5/5
As for In the Line of Duty III, this 1080p presentation sourced from a 2K restoration is a bit similar to Royal Warriors, in that there’s a bit of softness and smeary DNR in select scenes, although contrast is nicely balanced and film grain looks healthy in most of the scenes. Blacks don’t have the most depth, although I don’t fault the presentation for that, as the source probably didn’t have that much fidelity in the darker sequences. Otherwise, this a nice presentation. 3.5/5
In the Line of Duty IV is more of the same as well, in that the transfer can look weirdly anemic in some shots and very healthy for most of the time. I’m sure that has something to do with the source, however there’s a slight unnatural color push that looks a bit off as well. This is probably the most off-looking title of the bunch, though it’s still a night and day improvement over DVD releases. The Export Version is included as well and sourced from a 2K restoration. 3/5
Both Yes, Madam! and Royal Warriors offer the same tracks found on the Eureka UK releases, so I’m including my thoughts from those releases below.
"For Yes, Madam!: “There’s a truly massive selection of audio options to choose from. The Theatrical Cut is gifted with three options to choose from: a Cantonese mono track from the theatrical mix, a Cantonese mono track from the home video mix and an English 5.1 surround track from the home video dub. All three tracks are remarkably clean, although I give the edge to the Cantonese theatrical mix for offering the most honest and full soundscape that the post-dubbed film is capable of. Yes, Madam! mostly dominates the mid-range and it’s all delivered well here despite the limitations.
The International Export Version comes with an English LPCM mono track that’s similarly clean and without damage.” 4/5
For Royal Warriors: “This Blu-ray release of Royal Warriors comes absolutely stacked with audio options to choose from. You can choose from the Cantonese mono theatrical mix, Cantonese mono home video mix, original English mono dub and an English 5.1 surround track produced for the home video market. The winner here, for me at least, is the Cantonese mono theatrical mix, which is presented as a DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track. This track faithfully presents all of its post-dub glory. I did notice a pretty audible pop about an hour in, but other than that this track is in really good condition.” 4/5
In the Line of Duty III comes with four audio options to choose from: a Cantonese 2.0 track from the original theatrical mix, a Cantonese 2.0 track from an alternate mix, an English 2.0 dub and a new English 5.1 dub. All tracks are presented in the DTS-HD MA codec. I usually gravitate toward the original Cantonese tracks on these films, and this one is no different. You’ll find the most dynamic range in the dialogue and effects there. I’d say that the new 5.1 English track is fun to have, but not very representative of how that film was originally supposed to sound. However, you can’t go wrong with the choices here. 4/5
In the Line of Duty IV comes with two audio options to choose from: a Cantonese 2.0 track from the Hong Kong cut of the film and an English 2.0 dub. Weirdly enough, I found the English track to be a bit fuller than the original Cantonese track on this release. Not enough to wholeheartedly recommend an English dub, but I digress. Another good job by 88 Films that presents the somewhat-thin source very nicely. 4/5
Alright, so here’s the thing about In the Line of Duty I-IV in 88 Films’ box set vs. Eureka’s single releases of each film: Eureka offers some unique interviews and commentaries that are not present in the 88 Films set and vice versa. For my money, you can’t go wrong with either release and it will most likely come up to personal preference or if you don’t have Region Free capabilities. Whichever release you do in fact choose, you’ll find plenty of supplements to dig into. The supplements packages get thinner the further you get into the set, though there’s still plenty to enjoy.
Disc 1: Yes, Madam!
Disc 2: Royal Warriors
Disc 3: In the Line of Duty III
Disc 4: In the Line of Duty IV
Michelle Yeoh, Cynthia Rothrock, Cynthia Khan and Donnie Yen are only a few of the big names attached to the In the Line of Duty series that kicked off in mid-80s Hong Kong, and 88 Films has compiled the first four entries in the series with a limited-edition box set that presents these action classics in HD. Supplements are aplenty, as are the high kicks and punches, therefore this release comes Highly Recommended!