Police Assassins, aka Yes Madam, is a Hong Kong action film produced by Sammo Hung and directed by Corey Yuen, that kickstarted the eighties “femme fatale cop” genre leading to numerous spin offs and sequels.
“Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” star Michelle Yeoh, was given her first leading role as “Inspector Ng”, although she is credited as “Michelle Khan”.
Also making her leading acting debut was American martial arts champion and actress, Cynthia Rothrock, playing “Inspector Carrie Morris” of Scotland Yard!
“Project A” Pirate King, Dick Wei does what he does best, playing one of the villains.
Chung Fat, veteran of films such as “The Prodigal Son” and “Encounters of the Spooky Kind”, lives up to his character’s name as “Mad Dog”.
Veteran of the Bruce Lee films, James Tien, plays the big, bad boss Tin Wai-Keung.
In comedic roles are crazy-haired “Lucky Stars” and “Pom-Pom” regular, John Shum as “Strepsil”, one of Sammo Hung’s frequent supporting players, Mang Hoi as “Asprin”, and legendary producer and director, Tsui Hark as “Panadol”. Mang Hoi also served as an action choreographer.
There are comedy cameos from Sammo Hung, Richard Ng and Wu Ma.
Two bumbling thieves, Strepsil and Asprin, unwittingly come into possession of a secret microfilm when they steal a murder victim’s passport. The microfilm contains evidence of the criminal activities of Triad boss, Mr Tin.
Inspector Ng discovers the murder victim is Richard Nordon with whom she was romantically involved, and is assigned to the case. Nordon was working undercover for the British, and as a result, Scotland Yard send Inspector Carrie Morris to investigate.
Strepsil and Asprin take the passport to their friend Panadol, who is a forger. Panadol sells the passport to a criminal, who tries to skip bail by leaving the country. The police get a tip-off that the passport will be used at the airport. Confronted by Ng, the criminal tries to escape only to be confronted by Morris, who takes him down with her impressive martial arts skills.
Initially, Morris and Ng do not get on, but work together to find out how the criminal came into possession of the stolen passport. They pretend to let him escape and follow him to Panadol’s apartment. Having saved Panadol from the criminal, he inadvertently identifies his friends Strepsil and Asprin as the source of the passport. Meanwhile, Mr Tin also has his henchmen on the lookout for the two thieves.
Morris and Ng come to the rescue of Strepsil and Asprin, who promptly run away. Fearing for their lives, Strepsil and Asprin get themselves arrested in the hope that they will be safe at the police station. Ng releases them hoping they will lead her to the killer. After receiving a beating, Strepsil and Asprin decide the best thing is to cooperate, and they return to Panadol to find out why the items they stole are so precious. Panadol examines the passport and discovers the microfilm. Panadol and Asprin decide it would be better to get rich by blackmailing Mr Tin for the microfilm, than giving it to the police. They trick Strepsil who gives a worthless microfilm to Ng. Ng and Morris arrest Mr Tin, but their evidence is no good. Ng and Morris are humiliated and taken off the case. They hand in their badges and decide to take down Mr Tin themselves!
The eighties were a “golden age” for Hong Kong action films. Stars such as Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung had been breaking box office records with films like “Project A”, “Wheels on Meals” and “My Lucky Stars”, moving the style of martial arts action away from the Qing dynasty and into more contemporary settings.
With Sammo Hung as a producer, and Corey Yuen directing, you are pretty much guaranteed inventive and hard-hitting action.
The film kicks off with Michelle Yeoh in the thick of the action, as she thwarts an armed robbery. It is immediately obvious that Yeoh is performing nearly all her own stunts, as she runs through the streets of Hong Kong, leaping on to the roof of a car, and having a shootout with the would-be thieves that Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” would be proud of. The precedent is set that the fighting female characters in this film easily equal their male counterparts.
Shortly after, we are introduced to the character of “Panadol”, played by the future director of the “Once Upon a Time in China” series of films. Although he is mostly clowning around in a comedic role, he does perform a lot of impressive flips and falls when some dodgy customers come knocking on his door. I can only imagine this experience stood him in good stead when he came to direct his own action scenes. His co-conspirators, “Asprin” and “Strepsil” have small pieces of action to perform, and they are all very much in the mould of the “Three Stooges”.
Our next introduction is to Cynthia Rothrock in her first major action role. Demonstrating her excellent flexibility and kicking skills, she takes down her attacker in style. As with Michelle Yeoh, a point is made of allowing Rothrock to perform as much of her own action as possible. In an interrogation scene, Rothrock’s character demonstrates she is every bit as tough as Michelle Yeoh’s, as she elbows, kicks and knees her suspect around the cell.
Veteran bad guy, Dick Wei, makes his first appearance in a pool hall brawl. Although Wei is famous for his traditional-style of martial arts combat, here he demonstrates he is equally adept in the high-kicking, modern style of screen combat. Doubled by legendary Hong Kong stuntman “Blackie” Shou Liang Ko, Wei’s character makes chase on a motorcycle, that he rides and jumps over any obstacle placed in front of him.
The fight choreography is raised a notch when Yeoh and Rothrock confront Wei in a bathroom battle that spills out into a nightclub. The two-on-one fighting is well-worked and timed, so it never feels like one actor is waiting on the sidelines for their turn to jump in and attack.
This, however, is just a taster for the grand finale! Inspectors Ng and Morris have nothing left to lose and enter the villain’s lair to take on the bad guys! The final fight has stunts and action as good as any comparable films from the same period. Michelle Yeoh is shown performing a lot of her own physical stunts, not least when she flips backwards over a banister and through plate glass. Shot in slow-motion, the audience is clearly shown it is indeed Yeoh herself. Cynthia Rothrock demonstrates her superb timing, ducking and slipping the villains’ swords by millimetres. Rothrock is also given a chance to perform some of her wushu weapon skills with a wooden pole.
Whilst Yeoh and Rothrock are occasionally doubled for some of the more dangerous tricks and stunts, they really do hold their own here. This is most apparent in their final individual punch ups, with Cynthia Rothrock taking on Dick Wei in a blisteringly fast fist fight, and Michelle Yeoh in a brutal battle with the knife-wielding Chung Fat.
If anyone were to question the physical abilities of female action leads, this scene would be a great one to answer it!
It’s easy to forget that even in the mid-eighties, lead roles for female characters, especially in action films, were often “damsels in distress”, or supporting parts that propelled the story of the male star.
“Police Assassins/Yes Madam” helped launch what can now be considered a ground-breaking genre in Hong Kong action of tough female leads. Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock are no shrinking violets. Some of their actions, such as Yeoh effectively saying “Go ahead punk. Make my day” before shooting a villain with a shotgun, are as masculine as anything in “Dirty Harry” or “Lethal Weapon”. Rothrock’s no-nonsense and violent interrogation of a suspect, no less so.
As a film, the plot is weak, and there is a very uneven balance between the broad “My Lucky Stars” style comedy of “Asprin”, “Panadol” and “Strepsil”, and the hard-boiled fights and shootouts with the cops and robbers. Sammo Hung and Richard Ng’s cameo appearance is also at odds, with a rather sexist scene that could have come straight out of “Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars”. Our “Three Stooges” however, are quite fun in their roles.
James Tien is great as the arrogant gangster boss, and Dick Wei always looks deadly. Michelle Yeoh is convincing as an authority figure in a man’s world, and is very ably supported in this by Cynthia Rothrock.
The action, of course, is where this film makes up for any short-comings. The fights are fast and frenetic, well choreographed and feature the tightest of timing so every near-miss or direct hit looks genuine. It is interesting to note that this film was released in Hong Kong a month before Jackie Chan’s “Police Story”. There are occasional similarities, including the use of plenty of glass for stuntmen to land on in the finale!
The success of this film resulted in several sequels and spin-offs. Have a look at the Trivia below for the rather confusing issue with the names of them!
“Police Assassins/Yes Madam” was a springboard for the careers of Cynthia Rothrock and Michelle Yeoh, who went on to even greater success in films such as “Royal Warriors”, “Righting Wrongs”, “Inspector Wears Skirts”, “Police Story 3: Supercop”, “China O’Brien”, and many, many more.
Although still active in the industry today, this film is always worth checking out to see two of cinema’s best female action stars at the start of their illustrious careers!
- “Inspector Morris” was originally written as a male lead. The producers were so impressed by Cynthia Rothrock’s martial arts skills, that they turned the role into a female cop.
- Yeoh had previously played small roles in Sammo Hung’s film “Owl vs. Bumbo” (1985) and “Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars” (1985). For her role as “Inspector Ng”, Yeoh insisted on performing her own stunts, and worked out in a gym for eight hours a day in preparation!
- Michelle Yeoh was originally credited as Michelle Khan.
- At the 5th Hong Kong Film Awards in 1986, Mang Hoi received the award for Best Supporting Actor. Michelle Yeoh was nominated for Best New Performer and Corey Yuen and Mang Hoi were nominated for Best Action Choreography.
- During the filming of a fight scene, Dick Wei kicked Cynthia Rothrock so hard in the side of the head that she began bleeding from her ear. At the hospital, a torn inner ear was diagnosed, but Rothrock immediately returned to filming!
- Originally released as “Yes Madam”, this was followed up with the similarly themed “Royal Warriors”. “Royal Warriors” was originally re-titled “Police Assassins” on VHS in the UK, with “Yes Madam” subsequently packaged as a sequel, and becoming “Police Assassins 2”. In other territories, they were called “In the Line of Duty 1 & 2”. 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 Michelle Yeoh/Khan. To cash in on the success of “Tiger Cage”, Donnie Yen starred with Cynthia Khan in “In the Line of Duty 4”. When “Yes Madam” made it to DVD on the Hong Kong Legends (HKL) label, it was released as “Police Assassins”, and similarly, “In the Line of Duty 4” was released as “In the Line of Duty”. Did you keep up with all of that?!