IN THE LINE OF DUTY 3 (1987) review

In 1987, Michelle Yeoh having gone on an early retirement, a novice by the screen name of Cynthia Khan was brought in by the D & B film company to fill her shoes as the star of the In The Line Of Duty series. The first one, Yes Madam!, was directed by Corey Yuen and paired Yeoh with Cynthia Rothrock in a wildly uneven film that was more of a madcap comedy until the bone-crunching finale. The second one, Royal Warriors, was directed by David Chung and was a vast improvement, a blistering action movie in the best eighties’ Hong Kong cinema tradition. In The Line Of Duty 3 (also known sometimes with the subtitle Force of the Dragon), is directed by Brandy Yuen and Arthur Wong, the latter being better known as the ace director of photography of countless classic Hong Kong films.

In the film, Rachel Yeung (Cynthia Khan) is a young policewoman just out of police school, who is desperate to get on the field but is permanently shielded from any dangerous case by her superior officer (Paul Chun), who also happens to be her uncle. But when a dangerous couple of Japanese terrorists (Stanley Ong and Michiko Nishiwaki) raid a jewel store (killing everyone in sight at the same time) and head to Hong Kong to buy weapons, Rachel is assigned as a liaison to Hiroshi Fujioka (Hiroshi Fujioka), a Japanese cop whose protégé was killed in the jewel store slaughter. For some reason Richard Ng, Eric Tsang and Stanley Fung crop up in non-sequitur cameos.

There was never much more binding the various installments of the series than a vague thematic kinship : a young policewoman proving tougher and more adept than her male counterparts. But In The Line Of Duty 3 hews very close to the former installment, Royal Warriors, there’s the same Japanese cop/Hong Kong lady cop pairing, and the same destructive and nihilistic dynamic by which no character is safe and very cruel things can happen at any moment. The film is very short at 79 minutes and keeps its plot extremely simple but effective, with the Japanese terrorist couple proving a very memorable and fearful set of villains. They’re bound by real love, albeit a very tough love, and the fact that he is slowly dying from disease adds a sort of poignancy to their interplay, even though they’re sociopathic terrorists with absolutely no regard for human life.

Michelle Yeoh was 23 when she first took on the role ; Cynthia Khan is, in this film, barely 20 ! Though she would prove to be a pretty good action heroin, combining beauty, fine charisma and credible martial arts moves, in this film (her third at that time, and her first major role) she really suffers from the comparison with the other kick-ass female in the cast : Michiko Nishiwaki. The first female Japanese bodybuilder, Nishiwaki is a smouldering presence, a statuesque beauty (though unusually muscular for a woman she remains completely feminine), and an altogether memorable actress who steals the film from Cynthia Khan (and everyone else for that matter). Maybe she should have been the one to replace Michelle Yeoh… It’s too bad she isn’t given that much in the way of action, most of it going to fellow villains Stanley Ong and, of course, Dick Wei. The action itself doesn’t really come until the last half hour, but when it comes, it’s more realistic than the other In The Line Of Duty installments, and incredibly fierce and violent. There is a fight in a warehouse between Hiroshi Fujioka and Stanley Ong that is unbelievably bloody and desperate, the two hitting each other with steel bars and ripping off flesh with hooks, while the final fight where Cynthia Khan faces off against Nishiwaki and Dick Wei, while over-edited to hide Cynthia Khan’s frequent stunt-doubling, is a memorable finish to a lean, mean little thriller.

Long Story Short : The quintessential In The Line Of Duty film : light on story but fierce and dynamic. Michiko Nishiwaki steals the show. ***


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