Over the past few months, Eureka have gradually been releasing the first four and best-known films from the In the Line of Duty series (which runs up to 9 films in total). Why they chose not to release them together as a box set is unknown (88 Films are doing so for US customers) but having them all on Blu-ray in the UK is something to celebrate, regardless of how they’re presented.

The final two films of the initial quartet are being released on the same day. So, on top of the fact they’re the only two entries to the narratively disconnected series that officially include the In the Line of Duty moniker in their titles, I decided to review them as a pair.

Read on to hear my thoughts.

In the Line of Duty III (a.k.a. Huang jia shi jie zhi III: Ci xiong da dao

Director: Arthur Wong, Brandy Yuen
Screenplay: Kiu-Ying Chan
Starring: Cynthia Khan, Hiroshi Fujioka, Stuart Ong, Michiko Nishiwaki, Hua Yueh, Paul Chun, Dick Wei, Sandra Kwan Yue Ng, Melvin Wong, Eric Tsang, Richard Ng
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 90 min
Year: 1988
BBFC Certificate: 18

In the Line of Duty III opens in Japan, with criminal couple Genji Nakamura (Stuart Ong) and Michiko Nishiwaki (Michiko Nishiwaki) heading a brazen jewellery heist at a high-class fashion show, in which they massacre a large proportion of the audience. During the getaway, a police detective is killed. His partner, Hiroshi Fujioka (played by Hiroshi Fujioka, though he’s not actually playing himself), is there when it happens and vows to get revenge.

The action then moves over to Hong Kong where the couple, unimaginatively dubbed ‘The Male and Female Thieves’, have travelled to sell the jewellery for a cache of weapons to donate to the Japanese Red Army. When it turns out the jewels were fake, they embark on a violent rampage to get the money they feel they earned.

Being an In the Line of Duty film though, we have, of course, a tough female police officer to stop the bad guys. With Michelle Yeoh in retirement at the time it was made, Cynthia Khan fills the gap. She plays Rachel Yeung, a newly promoted ‘Madam’ in the S.C.S. (Serious Crimes Section) of the police force. She wants to take on the Male and Female Thieves but her uncle, Cameron Chung (Paul Chun), is her superior and instead sets her the supposedly safer task of chaperoning Fujioka, who, unbeknownst to the Hong Kong police, has come there in search of revenge.

This means Yeung does indeed get involved in the hunt for the criminals and, as you might guess, chaos ensues.

Part III is probably the least-feted entry to the quartet but I thought it held its own against the high standard of the In the Line of Duty series (see my reviews of Yes, Madam! and Royal Warriors).

Khan does a decent job of taking the star mantle from Yeoh. She lacks her predecessor’s charm and isn’t quite as good an actress but she makes a convincing cop and action star (even though she’s doubled more often than Yeoh). Like Yeoh, Khan had a background in dance, though she also trained in martial arts once she’d landed this role. As such, she has the physicality to pull off some impressive moves and look good in the process. It wasn’t Khan’s first film (she’d worked in Taiwan before) but it was her first Hong Kong film and it’s quite an introduction. She never became a megastar but was still popular and made a slew of action movies throughout the 90s, following her In the Line of Duty success.

I wasn’t a massive fan of the storytelling here, with it feeling a bit thinly drawn. However, this simple narrative allows for a regular, healthy dose of action. The fights are, perhaps, not as intricately choreographed as in the next film (see below) but they, and the film in general, are notably brutal. There’s a grisly stabbing, the aforementioned fashion show massacre, plenty of blood and even some vampiric S&M! As is often the case in Hong Kong movies though, some daft humour is thrown in now and again for good measure (including a bizarre, totally unnecessary scene featuring cameos from Richard Ng and Eric Tsang).

The film is very nicely shot too, likely aided by the fact it’s co-directed by one of Hong Kong’s best cinematographers, Arthur Wong. On top of keeping the action scenes dynamic through camera movement and editing, there are some stylishly lit scenes, such as the fashion show and a cool fight in a red-lit room.

So, whilst I do think it’s the weakest of the four first In the Line of Duty films, I do think this third part is still very strong. With plenty of often quite brutal action scenes and an impressive visual style for the era, it’s a thrilling ride that Hong Kong genre fans will enjoy a great deal.

Film:

In the Line of Duty IV (a.k.a. Huang jia shi jie zhi III: Ci xiong da dao

Director: Woo-Ping Yuen
Screenplay: Chi-Sing Cheung, Wing-Fai Wong, Kwong-Kim Yip
Starring: Cynthia Khan, Donnie Yen, Michael Wong, Yat Chor Yuen, Kai-Chi Liu, Chiao Chiao, Shun-Yee Yuen, Blaine Lamoureux
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 94 min
Year: 1989
BBFC Certificate: 18

In the Line of Duty IV sees Cynthia Khan return, this time playing Inspector Yeung Lai-Ching. She’s working alongside Captain Donnie Yan (Donnie Yen) and Captain Michael Wong (Michael Wong – they weren’t very imaginative in naming characters) in Seattle to shut down an international drug smuggling organisation.

Whilst Donnie and Yeung run into trouble during a tailing operation, one of their colleagues, Peter (Blaine Lamoureux), manages to track the criminals to their intended dealing location. There, he discovers a CIA agent is involved in the organisation and manages to take a photo of the man.

Peter is spotted and tries to escape, but is shot in the process. In his dying moments, he gives the film from his camera to a passing Hong Kong immigrant dock worker, Luk Wan-Ting (Yat Chor Yuen), who promptly loses the precious film in the ensuing chase.

The arrival of the police saves Luk from the drug dealers but, with the innocent man found holding a gun, standing over Peter’s dead body, they assume he’s one of the criminals and take him into custody.

From then on, Luk struggles to survive as the drug dealers repeatedly try to take him out and the police continue to treat him like a wanted man, not helped by the fact he escapes custody and heads back to Hong Kong. Travelling over to find him, Yeung and Donnie clash over policing styles, as well as the fact that Yeung believes Luk is innocent, whilst Donnie doesn’t. Various twists and turns make it clear who the real bad guys are though and, of course, our heroes get to face off with them in an epic showdown.

As my synopsis, which is missing an awful lot of detail, might suggest, In the Line of Duty IV is more densely plotted than part III’s simple cops vs criminals affair. In his commentary on the disc, Frank Djeng believes this is to part IV’s detriment, but I actually preferred the more involving narrative here. There were one or two moments I thought lagged, largely ones seeing Yen and Khan bickering about their approaches to policing, but these are only brief.

Despite cramming a lot of story into the film, part IV still manages to be packed to the gills with action, and what action… With the great Yuen Woo-Ping at the helm, you know you’re in for something special and he doesn’t disappoint. Teaming up with his brother Shun-Yee Yuen and numerous other luminaries for the action choreography, the fights are cleverly constructed, varied and often feature some fairly long takes, to allow the audience to appreciate the skills involved, rather than relying on fast cuts to merely suggest intense battling.

There are some incredible stunts too, including a couple of high falls and a terrifying sequence that sees characters fighting on and hanging off moving cars. Though she’s doubled a fair amount, Khan can be seen in some of these hair-raising sequences, so kudos to her for giving it her all.

Yen, who was only just starting to make a name for himself after impressing in Tiger Cage, gets to show his fighting skills here. His opening kick alone is enough to grab your attention. His performance, on the whole, isn’t particularly likeable though, as he comes across as a bit of an *rsehole. This is due to the script more than Yen himself though.

It’s odd that Khan and Yen take a side seat for most of the first half of the film, whilst the story focuses on Luk and his plight. The film gets away with it though, still feeling like a cohesive whole once the focus shifts. Plus, his character’s story is more engaging than simply watching some police detectives doing their jobs, aided by a strong performance from Yeun Woo-Ping’s brother Yat Chor Yuen. It’s a shame he didn’t make any other films after this.

So, In the Line of Duty is another winner for the series. It’s a blast from start to finish, packed with first-rate fights and chases, alongside a compelling plot. Hong Kong action on top form.

Film:

In the Line of Duty III and In the Line of Duty IV are out on 20th March on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by Eureka as part of their Eureka Classics series. The films both look fantastic, with clean, detailed pictures, lovely colours and natural grain structure. You get both Cantonese and English mono soundtracks for each of the films. I opted for the former both times and they sounded decent, with no notable issues.

In the Line of Duty III Special Features

– 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
– Cantonese and English audio options (both in their original mono presentations)
– 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
– Trailers
– Reversible sleeve design
– A Limited Edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing by James Oliver [2000 copies]

In the Line of Duty IV Special Features

– Limited Edition O-Card slipcase featuring new artwork by Darren Wheeling [2000 copies]
– 1080p HD presentation on Blu-ray of the original theatrical cut from a brand new 2K restoration
– 1080p HD presentation of the original export version from a brand new 2K restoration
– Cantonese and English audio options (both in their original mono presentations)
– 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
– Archival commentary by Hong Kong expert Stefan Hammond and lead actor Michael Wong
– Archival interview with Donnie Yen
– New interviews with cast and crew
– Archival “Donnie Yen Action” featurette
– Trailers
– Reversible sleeve design
– A Limited Edition collector’s booklet featuring new writing by James Oliver [2000 copies]

Frank Djeng’s commentaries are, as usual, crammed with facts about and filmographies of the cast and crew, as they appear. He does this with a rapid pace and much enthusiasm, making for an easy listen.

Arne Venema and Mike Leeder also deliver their typically informed but enjoyable discussions about the films and those involved. They’re refreshingly honest about some of the films’ shortcomings and I also appreciated their interesting dissection of Yen’s career and its ups and downs in their part IV commentary.

In a rare treat, we get a third commentary on In the Line of Duty IV, featuring Michael Wong alongside Stefan Hammond. It’s great to get a first-hand account of the making of one of these classic slices of Hong Kong action cinema. It’s not the most insightful of tracks, with Hammond often pointlessly describing the plot we already know after having watched the film, and Wong simply admiring the stunts. However, Wong’s cheerful demeanour is infectious and it remains a diverting listen.

In the 15min archival piece on Yen, the actor is shown on set directing and acting in a film, intercut with and played over an interview with him. He comes across as a little full of himself in places but I enjoyed all the behind-the-scenes material.

The other, slightly longer interview with Yen, this time in English, similarly has the actor and filmmaker bigging up Hong Kong action movies and saying how tough his job is. He later moves on to his experiences working on In the Line of Duty IV though, which makes for interesting listening.

The booklets are decent as always, both offering illuminating essays from James Oliver. I enjoyed hearing about how the sales agents seem to be to blame for the confusion over the titles of the In the Line of Duty series and even for Cynthia Khan’s international stage name! I also appreciated hearing his thoughts on the surprising complexity and intelligence of part IV’s script.

As always then, Eureka have made sure the films look and sound in tip-top condition and have included a healthy amount of extras to better appreciate the films. So, it’s a double whammy of must-buys for fans of Hong Kong action movies.

Discs/Packages:

In the Line of Duty III & IV - Eureka
Films
Disc/package
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Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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