Yes, Madam: Film Review

It’s been a while since I reviewed Royal Warriors, the second installment in the retroactive “In The Line Of Duty” series of films – so now it’s time for me to take a look at the first film, and the starring debut of Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock, 1985’s Yes, Madam.

Still from Yes, Madam of Michelle Yeoh as Inspector Ng (on left) and Cynthia Rothrock as Inspector Morris (on right).

Yes, Madam follows Inspector Ng (Yeoh), a Hong Kong Police Detective who is introduced first busting a serial flasher, before moving on to take on some bank robbers in a massive action sequence (presumably to make sure the audience actually takes her seriously, even if her co-workers don’t) – before she is caught up in the murder of an old flame who was smuggling secret microfilm that would incriminate Henry Tin (James Tien) a Hong Kong businessman responsible for Shady Dealings (TM) and also Narcotraffiking. Because the businessman is from the UK, an inspector from Scotland Yard, Carrie Morris (Rothrock), is also sent to Hong Kong to work on the investigation, causing the two to begrudgingly team-up. In the middle of all of this are three unlucky thieves, Strepsil (John Sham), Panadol (Tsui Hark), and Aspirin (Mang Hoi), who flipped the victim’s room shortly after the murder (but shortly before Ng discovered the body), and who steals the victim’s passport, which also has the microfilm.

Let’s get this out of the way – Yes, Madam is just a little overly complicated, something that Royal Warriors very much corrects. For massive chunks of the film, the plot with Ng and Morris’ investigation is shoved firmly into the background to focus on The Three Pills (Strepsil and Panadol are brand names for cold and pain medication, respectively). Some of the jokes for those characters work, but others are just extended tangents, like a plot beat involving The Three Pills raising money to buy a flat for their mentor-in-crime (played by Sammo Hung) through pool hustling.

There’s also an unfortunate problem here with rape and sexual assault played for comedy. Ng is introduced on a sting to catch a serial flasher, because she’s a woman. There’s a later “joke” with Hung in and his roommates in his nursing home which is played as them going to sexually assault a nurse, when actually they just are trying to steal a chicken (and, as an aside, a fairly undercooked looking one – the skin is not browned at all). When Police Story did it as a one-off throw-away joke done in a single line of dialog it was bad. Here where it’s an extended onscreen beat – twice – it’s gross.

What makes all of that last frustrating is the rest of the action movie around it is very good – you have some good tension of clashing police styles between Morris and Ng (with Morris being more willing to use questionable policing tactics while Ng is more of a soft touch), and some very nice fight choreography throughout the film. I even like the bit where Morris reflexively hits any man who says anything misogynist, just because it means that we don’t have people saying sexist crap around her character without being challenged to some degree.

And then there’s some of the stunt work and fight choreography. The final fight in the film in particular is absolutely splendid. It moves past “chef’s kiss” to “that gif of Antonio Bandaras from Assassins”. There are very good reasons why several spots from the final fight scene in this movie make it into the Michelle Yeoh Highlight Reel, and that’s not because it’s her first starring role. Her work in the fight scenes here really makes a statement that this is a woman who will be one of the greatest action stars in the history of cinema. Rothrock is also incredibly solid here as well, though arguably the bigger spots in the film go to Yeoh.

Ultimately, the repeated “jokes” involving rape and sexual assault make it difficult for me to give this a full recommendation. However, I did enjoy this film a great deal, and if you’re a fan of Yeoh’s work, it’s absolutely worth it to go back to the beginning and give this movie a try.

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