Director: Wellson Chin Sing-Wai
Screenplay: Cheng Kam-Fu
Starring: Sibelle Hu, Cynthia Rothrock, Kara Wai Ying-Hung, Sandra Ng Kwan-Yue, Ann Bridgewater, Regina Kent, Ellen Chan Nga-Lun, Lee Pooi-Ling, Stanley Fung, Billy Lau
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 96 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
Golden Harvest and producer Jackie Chan took a bit of a gamble in making The Inspector Wears Skirts (a.k.a. Ba wong fa, Top Squad or Lady Enforcer). Whilst the ‘girls with guns’ sub-genre was in full swing by then, a lot of the films within it had male co-stars or male-led plots running alongside the female ones. The Inspector Wears Skirts, however, was made up of a large cast of actresses, with men taking a backseat or merely being the butt of jokes. Also, whilst Sibelle Hu was pretty popular in Hong Kong and Cynthia Rothrock’s name was on the rise, there were no megastars in the film, the budget was fairly sizable and director Wellson Chin was a relative newcomer, with only one other film to his name at the time.
However, The Inspector Wears Skirts proved to be a hit. In fact, it was successful enough to spawn three sequels.
Now, 88 Films are turning their attention to the film and releasing it on Blu-ray, with their usual top-notch clean-up job and other bells and whistles.
In The Inspector Wears Skirts, Sibelle Hu stars as Madam Wu, a character she played in two of the ‘Lucky Stars’ films (meaning this could be considered part of their ‘cinematic universe’ if you’re into that kind of thing). We open the film with her and Interpol agent Madam Law (Cynthia Rothrock) taking down a bunch of terrorists who try to assassinate a visiting sheikh.
Wu’s actions are praised by her superior, leading him to assign her the task of training up a bunch of new recruits to form an all-female special police unit known as SKIRTS (the film isn’t quite as progressive as it seems at first glance).
Whilst the motley crew of recruits go through their tough training regime and squabble among themselves, the neighbouring male trainees, dubbed the SDU, have their eye on the ladies and do their best to woo them. The women don’t all fall for their charms so easily though. Most notably, Wu has little interest in the advances of the SDU’s instructor, Inspector Kan (Stanley Fung).
Eventually, the SKIRTS are assigned the job of foiling a jewellery heist but they must work alongside the SDU so they have to reconcile their differences.
A lot of Hong Kong films jump wildly between genres and The Inspector Wears Skirts is a prime example of this. After the action-packed opening scenes with Wu and Law taking on the terrorists, the film suddenly switches over to an all-female Hong Kong spin on Police Academy for much of the running time with kicks and punches making way for slapstick and other wacky hijinks.
I can see this irking many martial arts fans who were hoping for another action-packed girls-with-guns film akin to Royal Warriors and, yes, I much preferred the opening and closing segments of the film for this reason. However, I did find myself enjoying the antics of SKIRTS in the lengthy mid-section.
I wouldn’t say the comedy had me splitting my sides. It’s very goofy and corny but I found there was a certain charm to it all, aided by a game cast. Sandra Ng does most of the heavy lifting among the female cast when it comes to comedy but all of the cast are likeable.
Rothrock was added into the film after it had already begun production, which shows in the fact she disappears for much of it (she’s only in the opening scene and the final half hour). Rothrock had started to become popular then and Golden Harvest felt they needed to add a bit of oomph to the film.
And oomph she indeed provides. The opening sequence and the last half-hour when she re-enters the film are easily the strongest segments. Whilst, on the whole, there’s more comedy than action in the film, when the action does kick off it’s remarkably good.
The opening sequence, with its ninjas, guns, grenades, kung-fu and impressive stunts is attention-grabbing, to put it mildly. Incidentally, it was shot on one of the Project A sets.
With Jackie Chan producing the film, it was his stunt team who were behind the action, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that it’s first-rate. Plus, Rothrock always delivers the goods. Hu was not a martial artist but she’s convincing in her action scenes too.
I also want to give a shout-out to the kung-fu sparring love scene where some of the potential couples are made to stand-off against each-other in a number of fights meant to quell the rivalry between the two units.
Another standout scene that will go either way with viewers is a show-stopping song-and-dance number in the middle of the film. Not content with shifting from intense action to daft comedy, Wellson Chin goes full-on musical when Alex To belts out a faux-rock’n’roll number to woo Ellen Chan, with he and his SDU buddies throwing some choreographed shapes whilst wearing roller skates!
So, whilst a lot of people will likely complain about the lack of action and proliferation of goofy comedy in much of the first two-thirds of the film, I found The Inspector Wears Skirts cheesily entertaining and when the action does come it’s exceptionally good. Take that as you will.
The Inspector Wears Skirts is out on 4th December on region A & B Blu-Ray, released by 88 Films (pre-order it here – https://88-films.myshopify.com/products/the-inspector-wears-skirts). The transfer looks very good. Colours are pleasing and details are crisp. I’ve used screengrabs throughout to give you an idea of how it looks. These have been compressed though.
For audio, you get a choice of Cantonese mono or an English mono dub. I opted for the Cantonese and had no issues.
LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES
– Double Walled O-Ring featuring new artwork by Sean Longmore
– Limited Edition 32 Page Booklet Notes by Paul Bramhall
– Double-sided foldout poster featuring New and Classic Poster Art
– Brand New 2K Restoration in 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio from the original negatives
– High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray™ presentation
– Original Cantonese Mono with English Subtitles
– English Mono Dub
– Audio Commentary with Frank Djeng
– Shooting Her Shot – An Interview With Cynthia Rothrock
– The Director Wears Pants – An Interview With Director Wellson Chin
– ”Top Squad” English Opening and Closing Titles
– Hong Kong Trailer
– English Trailer
– Stills Gallery
– Reversible cover with new artwork by Sean Longmore and original HK Poster Art
Frank Djeng provides his usual blend of facts about the filmmakers and aspects of the film that might have gone over the heads of Westerners. He has a fun story to tell about how he met Stanley Fung too.
I always enjoy Rothrock’s interviews and this one is particularly good. She shares many memories of making the film and talks about its qualities.
Wellson Chin discusses how he got into the industry, as well as his experiences making The Inspector Wear Skirts. It’s a fun piece, with the director honest about the struggles and limitations of the shoot.
I didn’t receive the booklet to comment on that.
Overall, 88 Films have done another stellar job of resurrecting a Hong Kong classic. If you’re happy to have plenty of goofy comedy sandwiched between your martial arts action, then you should pick this up.