Broken glass flies as Judge Neil Dorsett reviews this Michelle Yeoh action flick.
"Miss, what's going on here?"
Royal Warriors is the originating film in the series known variously as Yes, Madam and In the Line of Duty. The film is an action showcase for Michelle Yeoh, whom we know now in the United States primarily through her appearance in a Bond movie (Tomorrow Never Dies) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a Chinese movie tailored for success in the West. She was also a part of Jackie Chan's US penetration in the successful Supercop, and for my money, her Comrade Yang from that movie could kick the butts of both of those other characters with her eyes closed. Anyway, this movie is from considerably earlier than any of those others—this is the one that got her on the charts in the first place. So here we have Royal Warriors, which from its title might be taken for a swordplay epic, but is actually a cop movie. The "Royal" of the title is simply the Queen of England, to whom the Hong Kong police were at that time in service.
The movie opens with shots of Yeoh, sporting the entire Don Johnson look just short of the stubble, photographing a concert of some sort while music (different music than that being played onscreen) that sounds more appropriate for Sonic the Hedgehog, does little to establish the film's credibility. Luckily, the music stops short as some toughs attempt to take the life of a young restaurant employee. The employee runs, the crooks give chase, and quickly we are in a four-way chase: the employee, chased by the first tough, chased by Michelle, chased by the second tough. Michelle takes a moment to kick the bejeezus out of the two toughs with a bamboo sword. Action proceeds onto a plane, where Michelle (it's the character's name too: Michelle Yip) makes the acquaintance of both Michael, a sky marshal (Michael Wong), and Kenji Yamamoto, a Japanese policeman (Hiroyuki Sanada, The Last Samurai, Ringu among many others) with whom she'll wind up partnered following the attempted hijacking of the plane by a trio of traditional movie terrorists. In a completely insane scene, Michelle starts whomping one of the attackers with a fire extinguisher, only to wind up disarmed and with her head being sucked out of the window of the moving plane! You show me an American action heroine who works this hard. The three terrorists are dispatched ("patch" being quite literal in one case) and the trio of police, now united by friendship, returns to what they think is the daily routine.
But those terrorists have some friends (whose backstory composes a good bit of the movie's second half), and those friends aren't going to sit lightly for the deaths of their three compatriots. Yamamoto's wife and child, with whom he'd been struggling a bit and trying to get on top of things, are killed in a car bomb before his very eyes. When Yamamoto pursues the bomber, he winds up buried in dirt as the bomber commandeers a steam shovel; as he's being unearthed by Michelle, he screams, "What are you doing? Follow him!" Yamamoto becomes increasingly vengeful and erratic, putting both himself and Michelle in danger; this much to the consternation of Michael, who has gotten a bit of a crush on Michelle. She finds his romantic attentions entirely frivolous in the face of the dangers that they're dealing with, but Michael persists nonetheless in making a complete boob of himself in pursuit of the admittedly very pursuable policewoman.
Royal Warriors is not shy about action. In one combat, a photographer is shot right through the camera! And one scene in a club does its level best to challenge Police Story's record for most glass broken by human bodies in a single fight. This movie seems in many ways influenced by that one (Jackie Chan's breakout urban adventure, only a few years earlier) and that is the series which includes her role as Yang in Supercop. The film becomes increasingly grim and violent as it progresses, with the love-addled Michael taking a lot of the heat. Poor Michael is shot through the feet and dangled from a building as a hostage. Surprisingly astute for an action movie to transform a character like this, who first seems intended for comic relief of the buffoon sort, into a character who has reality for the others involved and one whom for whom we feel when he suffers injury. The bad guys' backstory isn't without effect, either. The men are hard soldiers with a lot of experience, capable of turning territory to their advantage as in the live burial of Yamamoto mentioned above. When the final terrorist lures Yamamoto and Yip to a huge construction site, they have to use every bit of their wits and resources to win the day.
I liked Royal Warriors and I generally like this sort of heroine movie from Hong Kong. Rather than spend her time fighting with co-workers over sexism, Michelle fights villains efficiently and effectively. Her competence and skill are not under question in the least: they are demonstrated early and then taken for granted by both the movie and the character's peers. What greater statement of ability than to merely accept and respond to the situations that occur In the Line of Duty? Of course, one could argue that that's sort of a Confucian attitude generally. At any rate, the Chinese warrior woman tradition is well steeped in time and lore, and this contemporary update of the genre leads to an exciting and undisciplined action flick, which flies just shy of the "buddy" genre and gives good Hong Kong action. By any standards of action movie, and Hong Kong ones in particular, this one gives a lot. It's goofy and absurd and uneven, but we expect that sort of thing, so bring it on and put that lady in an armored car!
The transfer of Royal Warriors leaves a lot to be desired. Unlike the standard-setting discs produced of Magnificent Butcher and City Hunter, this one seems to be a simple recycling of an existing Fortune Star transfer. Which is to say, it's not that much better than a Media Asia or Tai Seng disc. The dreaded embedded 3:2 pulldown is in full effect here, eating up its 20% of the bitrate and confusing the motion encoder with duplicate fields as it always does. The transfer is also noisy and soft in the first place, and this noise is picked right up by the MPEG compression to result in a very grainy and low contrast picture indeed. Black levels are uniformly gray throughout the movie.
The audio has been remixed in both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 in both available languages, and the results are a big fat zilch. While some of the action in the low end has been enhanced, the surround effects consist mostly of the same ricochet noise inserted willy-nilly into the action scenes. Again this is a suggestion of recycling from previous Media Asia editions, known for their ridiculous 5.1 mixes. The bulk of the audio is operating in the original center channel mix, with only music and the aforementioned ricochets really traveling much. Better to just stick with the original mix, which is completely unavailable on this disc. At least there is the option of watching in Cantonese with English subtitles rather than using the very standard and lame dub.
As far as special features go, the offerings are minimal and consistent with other Fox/Fortune Star releases of late. There's a pack of trailers, none original, for the other movies in the series as well as the upcoming I, Robot and Aliens vs. Predator features. The original trailer for Royal Warriors is included alongside a silly new video-generated one. That's it. I wish I had a copy of the Tai Seng release of Royal Warriors to actively compare with this new one. Outside of price, there may not be much difference between the two. This disc is 16x9 enhanced, but the source transfer is surely 4x3 since it's obviously old. A smart shopper who's really interested in this movie will want to compare; to the viewer with a casual interest in Hong Kong action, I would say that this is definitely worth a rental. Yeoh fans and those who are a little more enthusiastic about Asian action in general may want to go ahead and buy, as the purchase price is low at $9.98 and this is one of her classic showcases. The price is one area where this disc beats the earlier Tai Seng issue hands-down, so if that disc also lacks special features, this one would be the obvious choice.
Michelle Yeoh and crew are found not guilty and released to go and do whatever it is they're doing now. 20th Century Fox is advised to step up the quality on their collaborations with Fortune Star entertainment. You gave us those Magnificent Butcher and City Hunter discs. More wonderful transfers like those; less recycled old home video transfers like this. Court stands in recess and will the bailiff please arrange to have the broken glass cleaned up.
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