This is a classic eighties Hong Kong cop martial arts action thriller! Starring Donnie Yen, Cynthia Khan, Michael Wong, and directed by Yuen Woo-ping. Confusingly its UK name is In the Line of Duty, but its international name is In the Line of Duty 4!
A youthful Donnie Yen stars as “Captain Donnie Yan”. Director Yuen Woo-ping had given Donnie his first leading roles in the comedies “Drunken Tai Chi” and “Mismatched Couples”. He had greater success when he cast him in the more serious-toned “Tiger Cage”, and continued in the same vein with “In the Line of Duty”. Playing a tough cop with top martial arts skills would stand Donnie in good stead later in his career with hits such as “Tiger Cage 2”, “Sha Po Lang/Kill Zone“, “Flash Point” and “Kung Fu Killer“.
Taiwanese actress Cynthia Khan made her action debut in “In the Line of Duty 3”. In this loose follow-up, she plays cop “Madam Rachel Yeung Lai-ching”. Her real name is Yang Li-Tsing, but producers were hoping to cash in on the success of the “Yes Madam” (AKA “Police Assassins“) films starring Michelle Khan (later known as Michelle Yeoh) and Cynthia Rothrock, hence the screen name. She would go on to become one of the leading stars of the “girls with guns” genre of the 1980’s, often playing tough cops in movies such as “Tiger Cage 2”, “In the Line of Duty 5” (and 6 & 7!), “Yes Madam ’92”, “The Avenging Quartet” and “Angel on Fire”.
Michael Wong plays “Police Captain Michael Wong”. He has had a long and varied career in Asian cinema since the eighties, appearing alongside the likes of Jackie Chan, Brandon Lee, Chow Yun Fat and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Fluent in English, Cantonese and Mandarin, he is best known for his roles in “Beast Cops”, “Legacy of Rage”, “Thunderbolt”, “Knock Off”, and “From Vegas to Macau”.
Martial artists John Salvitti and Michael Woods trained in the USA under Donnie Yen’s mother, Bow Sim-mark. Donnie believed their skills could be put to good use as henchmen in this film. Woods had already appeared to great effect in “Tiger Cage”, a film which Salvitti had initially turned down.
Action director and stuntman Yuen Yat-chor plays “Luk Wan-ting”, a hapless dock-worker who becomes embroiled in the police pursuit of Hong Kong gangsters.
In Seattle, Detectives Yeung and Yan are investigating a gang of drug smugglers from Hong Kong. An innocent docker, Luk Wan-ting accidentally comes into the possession of evidence of a corrupt drugs deal involving the CIA.
Wrongfully accused of murder, Luk escapes to Hong Kong. Detectives Yan, Yeung and Wong pursue the case there, but soon discover that everything is not what it seems.
The gang has corrupt police on their books who will stop at nothing to prevent the exposure of their operation. In a thrilling showdown, everything is at stake for the detectives and the unlucky Luk.
Action-packed is something of an understatement for this film! We first witness some Cynthia “Khan-age” as she fights a gang of seven thugs alongside Yuen Yat-chor in a small warehouse. Yuen leaps onto oil drums whilst using a crowbar to fight off his attackers, who are armed with various bats and poles. Meanwhile, Cynthia uses two spanners tied together as an improvised nunchaku to great effect against a knife-wielding assailant. It is not long before we are treated to a demonstration of Cynthia’s excellent fighting skills in a harbour-side fight with one of the gangsters. Cynthia originally trained as a dancer and is a practitioner of Taekwondo. Playing to these strengths, Yuen Woo-ping’s choreography and direction really let her shine. Although she is doubled for one or two of the more acrobatic moves, she clearly shows that she is more than up to the task in the fight scenes.
Leading man Donnie’s opening gambit is landing two back kicks in one jump against some unfortunate bad guys. Although the fight is short, it’s sweet, with some of what were to become Donnie’s trademark moves, always powerfully delivered.
Being a contemporary set Hong Kong film, there are also shoot-outs and stunts. These scenes are typically quite violent, especially when the masked assassins come calling for Luk’s brother Ming. There is a nice rooftop fight and chase between Donnie Yen and Yuen Yat-chor, and you can clearly see them jumping twenty feet or further onto nothing more than a single bed mattress! A stunt sequence involving the hijacking of a fast moving ambulance is particularly impressive, with Cynthia fighting on its roof, and hanging onto its sides and bonnet, sometimes upside down with her head just inches from the rushing tarmac.
A real highlight of this film is at the midway point, when John Salvitti’s motorbike-riding, bullet-spraying assassin arrives. In his amber-coloured eighties shades, he could almost be a robot-killer from “The Terminator”. The gun play and stunts are a prelude to his stand-out fight with Donnie Yen. Salvitti fights in a crazy, hand-waving style, but every strike and kick is delivered and received with power, even more so when presented in slow-motion.
Cynthia is later attacked in an hospital by a thug with a long knife. The choreography uses a mix of fast and slow-motion filming here to give a real sense of peril for our heroine. Her fight in a warehouse with US Karate Champion, Farlie Ruth Kordica is every bit as hard-hitting and skilful as those of their male counterparts, featuring some stunning kicks and body-crumpling falls through scaffolding.
There is an excellent, fast-paced, rough and tumble motorcycle chase with Michael Woods and Donnie Yen jousting each other, involving jumps and stunts that you just don’t really see in films outside of Asia.
The film concludes with three concurrent fights as Cynthia Khan, Yuen Yat-chor, and Donnie Yen finally expose the corrupt police officer and his henchmen. The best of these is the rooftop battle between Donnie and the musclebound, flexing Michael Woods, with Hong Kong airport providing a dramatic backdrop. Every blow looks genuine and there is some really inventive boxing and grappling choreography that looks at the same time feasible, but spectacular, something Donnie would return to later in his films “Flash Point” and “Special ID“.
In 1985, the success of Jackie Chan’s “Police Story” led to a boom in Hong Kong contemporary “cops and gangsters” films, that combined martial arts and stunts. Also released in 1985 “Yes Madam/Police Assassins”, did the same for female-led action films. “In the Line of Duty” represents something of a crossover of the genres, and is successful in doing so.
Plot-wise, this is an obvious “Lethal Weapon” rip off, and the same can be said of the cheesy synthesised soundtrack. The righteous “good cop, bad cop” acting probably isn’t going to win any awards either. But every ten to fifteen minutes or so, this film delivers a fight or stunt sequence that any action film from the eighties, or even today, would be proud to include.
Donnie Yen is young and energetic and has fantastic opposition to play off, especially in his real-life friends John Salvitti and Michael Woods. Cynthia Khan has tremendous fighting skills, and easily holds her own in the action sequences. Yuen Yat-chor is a classy Hong Kong stuntman, and is able to fight, jump from great heights, and crash through any given piece of furniture and glass. Orchestrating it all is the maestro himself, Yuen Woo-ping. Working in a modern-day setting, he dispenses with the wires and traditional martial arts styles of his older films, to give us some of his best and most powerful-looking contemporary fight choreography. The high kicking, boxing-style has a terrific rhythm and pace that is always a pleasure to watch.
If you don’t mind a bit of eighties cheese and want ninety minutes of non-stop action, featuring Donnie Yen at the inception of his illustrious career, “In the Line of Duty” is a real winner.
- The first two films in the “Yes Madam” series were called “In the Line of Duty 1 & 2” in some territories. The success of these led to “In the Line of Duty 3”, which introduced Yeung Lai-Ching, credited as ‘Cynthia Khan’ to link her to “Yes Madam” stars Michelle Yeoh/Khan and Cynthia Rothrock. To cash in on the success of “Tiger Cage”, Donnie Yen starred with Cynthia Khan in “In the Line of Duty 4”. When “In the Line of Duty 4” made it to DVD on the Hong Kong Legends label, it was released as “In the Line of Duty”.
- The success in this film led to Donnie Yen, John Salvitti, Michael Woods and Yuen Woo-ping reuniting for “Tiger Cage 2”. Learning a great deal from the master action director Yuen Woo-ping and action star Donnie Yen, Salvitti went on to have a successful career as a fight choreographer in his own right. He most recently re-teamed with Donnie for the films “Flash Point”, “Special ID” and “Kung Fu Killer”, and worked with Jean-Claude Van Damme on “Pound of Flesh“.
- Liu Kai-chi who played Luk’s brother “Ming”, would years later play one of the detectives on Donnie Yen’s team in “Sha Po Lang/Kill Zone“.