Director: David Chung
Screenplay: Kan-Cheung Tsang
Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Michael Wong, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ying Bai, Michael Wai-Man Chan, Jing Chen, Hing-Yin Kam
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 1986
BBFC Certificate: 15

The In the Line of Duty series is an odd one, as it began with an unconnected pair of films that only had that In the Line of Duty name in certain territories. Especially confusing is the fact that the earliest film, Yes, Madam! was often dubbed In the Line of Duty II whilst Royal Warriors, which was made a year later, was called In the Line of Duty in most English language territories. With stories and characters that aren’t connected at all, you couldn’t even claim it was a prequel.

Things made more sense with the third and fourth films in the franchise, when they officially started to use the In the Line of Duty name, though they’re still not narratively connected.

Whatever they’re called though, the films in the series formed a strong collection of ‘girls with guns’ contemporary-set Hong Kong action movies. Eureka are gradually releasing the first four films, one-by-one, on Blu-ray in the UK (88 Films are handling them as a boxset in the US). I reviewed Yes, Madam! at the end of last year and now I’m turning my attention to Royal Warriors. I haven’t seen this one before, so I was excited to check it out.

Royal Warriors once again stars the ever-wonderful Michelle Yeoh, this time playing a Hong Kong police officer named Michelle Yip. On her way back from Tokyo, where we see her help a young man who’s escaping the Triads, she finds her flight hijacked by a group of mobsters, who are trying to free one of their bosses on his way to being extradited to Hong Kong.

Michelle joins sky marshall Michael (Michael Wong) and Japanese cop Yamamoto (Hiroyuki Sanada) in bringing down the hijackers, leading them to come home heroes.

However, two of the mobsters killed in the incident happen to be half of a quartet of ‘blood brothers’, who swore an oath to stick together and avenge each other’s deaths, no matter what. So, our heroic trio become targets.

Throughout this, we see Michael relentlessly attempt to win the affection of Michelle whilst Yamamoto assures his wife that he is retiring from the police force, as promised.

As mentioned, this was a first-time watch for me and, all I can say is wow. Where has this film been all my life?!

Royal Warriors nails everything I want in an action movie. The film never wastes a frame, efficiently telling its admittedly quite generic story largely through visuals. Director David Chung knows what the audience came for, so keeps us happy with regular doses of high-octane action, whilst providing just enough plot and emotional weight to help you care about what our heroes are fighting for.

And the action is so good! The film has one of the best Hong Kong car chases, one of the best nightclub fights and one of the best aeroplane hijacking sequences I’ve ever seen. The finale that follows these and several other thrilling action set pieces goes brilliantly over the top with Yeoh showing up in an armoured vehicle and clashing against a villain wielding a chainsaw!

The set pieces are expertly presented too, aided by a young Johnnie To, who was the second unit director. Dynamic camera movements are utilised and a lot of moves are often incorporated into each shot, which is impressive seeing as some of its stars, particularly Yeoh, aren’t actually martial artists. The film is slickly edited too, giving it real punch and drive.

Losing the comedy that dominated much of Yes, Madam, Royal Warriors comes out a much tougher, more intense experience. We get some shockingly brutal scenes, with a fair dousing of blood and much destructive carnage, particularly in the aforementioned car chase and nightclub scenes.

I also appreciated the way the bad guys (or at least those that appear further into the film) are given a little more depth than usual. The pair of villains that appear after the hijacking are only after our protagonists due to an oath made between four closely bonded war veterans whose story we see through flashbacks.

The cast does a decent job too. Everyone knows (including a lot of Hollywood award voters this year) that Michelle Yeoh is amazing and has had a lengthy, impressive career, but Hiroyuki Sanada is somewhat of a legend too, showing up in numerous classic Japanese, Hollywood and Hong Kong films since he was a child. He appeared in several Sonny Chiba movies in his early days and was trained at Chiba’s Japan Action Club. After making a name for himself in Japan he broke into Hollywood. One role over there even reunited him with Yeoh, when he starred in Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. He’s recently featured in Bullet Train, the new Mortal Kombat reboot and even has a small role in Avengers: Endgame. I know him best for his starring role in the hugely entertaining Ninja in the Dragon’s Den though. He’s an excellent actor too, adding depth to a potentially generic ‘avenging husband’ role.

Royal Warriors was only Michael Wong’s third film but he too went on to considerable success. He didn’t make as big an impact in Hollywood as Yeoh and Sanada but can be seen in a couple of blockbusters, such as Transformers: Age of Extinction. He’s more popular in Hong Kong, even winning a Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actor for his role in the hugely successful Beast Cops.

Wong’s character here is quite annoying, with his dogged attempts to woo Yeoh basically coming across as stalking. Thankfully, this is called out by Yeoh’s character and his redemption becomes key to his arc by the end. This helps prevent any of his antics from tainting the film as a whole, which is otherwise pretty flawless, in my opinion.

The only minor criticism I might state is that I thought the music was pretty naff and irritating in some of the more dramatic scenes. Other than that, this is an absolute gem of action cinema. I’d urge even those only familiar with Hollywood action movies to give it a try, as this takes tropes from US efforts from the era and cranks them up to 11.

Action-packed from start to finish, unflinchingly brutal in places and slickly put together, it’s swiftly jumped itself among the ranks of my very favourite Hong Kong action movies.

Film:

Royal Warriors is out on 23rd January on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Eureka as part of their Eureka Classics series. The film looks gorgeous. Colours are rich, the print is clean and detailed, and there’s a light, natural grain. You get plenty of audio options too, covering all possible bases.

THE SPECIAL EDITION BLU-RAY INCLUDES

– Limited Edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling [2000 copies]
– 1080p HD presentation on Blu-ray from a brand new 2K restoration
– Two Cantonese mono audio options – theatrical and home video mixes
– Optional English dubbed audio
– Optional English Subtitles, newly translated for this release
– Brand new feature-length audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng (NY Asian Film Festival)
– Brand new feature-length audio commentary by action cinema experts Mike Leeder & Arne Venema
– 2018 interview with producer and actor John Sham courtesy of the Frédéric Ambroisine video archive
– New Locations featurette by Arne Venema
– Trailer
– Reversible sleeve design
– A Limited Edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing by James Oliver [2000 copies]

Frank Djeng goes solo here after being partnered up for his last bunch of commentary tracks. This doesn’t knock the standard in any way though. There are very few pauses as he doles out a mountain of fascinating information about everyone involved in the film, as well as providing some local knowledge about the locations and such.

Mike Leeder and Arne Venema also provide a vast amount of facts and anecdotes about the film and those involved in making it. As per usual, the pair have great chemistry together and it’s a joy to listen to them riff off each other over the film. There’s quite a lot of crossover between the tracks but I’m still happy to have both included.

In his fairly lengthy 33-minute interview, John Sham talks about his career, which began alongside luminaries such as Tsui Hark and John Woo. His production company D&B films is discussed too. Sham doesn’t say a great deal about Royal Warriors but does talk about working with Michelle Yeoh for a short while. His story is an interesting one, regardless of what films he talks about, so his interview is welcome here.

Venema’s location featurette is also a nice addition. It’s fun, punchy and well put together. I particularly enjoyed hearing about how the car chase cleverly got a lot of coverage from just a single street. The piece also sees Venema’s commentary cohort Leeder join him on-screen in portions of the 10-minute video, making for some amusing moments.

James Oliver provides yet another insightful essay in the booklet and there are some production images to browse through in there too. Oliver claims the film isn’t a ‘classic’ because it breaks no new ground, only doing conventional to a very high standard. I’d argue a lot of Hollywood classics do that too, but it’s a fair point.

All-in-all then, Eureka have put together another rock-solid package for a cracking Hong Kong action movie. Very highly recommended.

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