Film & DVD Review
When an immigrant Chinese dockworker comes into brief contact with secret evidence implicating American intelligence operatives and the Green Dragon Crime Syndicate in a major drug trafficking operation, he is marked for death. Now on the run and running out of time, his only hope for survival is two cops with nothing to hide and nothing to lose.
In The Line Of Duty is a film which was touted to me as being a real classic as far as the on screen fights go. That was more than enough for me to go buy the film, as a good classic fighting film is what I like to see, and is what got me into Asian cinema in the first place. In this one, there is no Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao or Sammo Hung. There is no Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh or Cynthia Rothrock. At the helm are Donnie Yen and Cynthia Khan. Donnie Yen is a person who more often than not I've not really been overly impressed with. This was another chance for him to show me why so many people rate him so highly.
One of the first impressions In The Line Of Duty will make on you when you watch it is that it is an 80s film! The clothes and general look of the film is very 80s. One you've got your laughter at the look of people out of the way, you can actually start to pay attention to what is going on, not the shoulder pads etc. So what's the film's story about then? Well as you probably would expect for an out and out martial arts action film, the plot is not very complicated or deep at all. Basically put, the CIA are involved in drug dealing, and when a cop finds out about this and photographs it, he is shot and killed. In trying to escape he passes the camera film on to an immigrant Chinese dockworker for him to get to the police. This causes him to be target number one for the police and the CIA. The rest of the film is about him trying to avoid being killed, to get the police to believe his story and for the police to crack down on the CIA drug dealing.
There you go, half a paragraph to give all the details of the plot that you really need. Hmmm... I'm getting the impression from that that this review is going to be quite short compared to others! Oh well... Anyway, I personally couldn't care less about the plot, as in a film like this all I am watching for is the fights. The film could be about someone just trying to get across the road to buy a newspaper. As long as there were loads of good fights involved in it, I'd be happy. I digress. In The Line Of Duty has many fights through its 90 minutes duration, in fact most scenes are pretty much just there to set up the next fight scene; so far so good!
But... there had to be a 'but' didn't there?! Unfortunately in most cases I wasn't that awe struck or anything like that when watching the fights. Yes, Donnie Yen, Yuen Yat Chor and Cynthia Khan come across very well in the ability stakes, but very little of what I saw was breath-taking stuff. Donnie Yen's favoured style of on screen fighting, as he states in interview in the extras, is using lots of kicks, as you can fake a good fighter with punches but you can't fake kicks, as they really require skill. He does have a point, and Donnie does pull off some very good kicking combinations, however, it makes the fights seem less realistic. Rather than looking real with some flash moves in there, they look strikingly staged to show off those flash moves. Because he is using these flash kicks, in a couple of instances the people he is fighting only last a couple of strikes, making the fight very much a bit of an anti-climax.
Fortunately there are some fights that do stand out more than others; unfortunately there are also some fights that stand out more than others for other reasons. Good first though. Donnie's fight near the end with Michael Woods is quite good. Those two have got very different physiques, making there fight styles completely different. This contrast helps enhance the aesthetic appeal of the fight, as you are not just watching two people pulling off the same kind of moves. Now the bad... there is an alleyway scene where Donnie is being chased by a Caucasian guy with an Uzi machine gun on a motorbike. Needless to say he knocks the guy off the bike and disarms him, so the two can have a good old hand to hand combat fight. The Caucasian guy looks pretty nifty, fast feet and all that sort of stuff, then it goes bad... so, so bad. The noises the guy makes are horrendous. They made me cringe so badly. Imagine a gwailo deliberately trying to do a very bad and cheesy Bruce Lee impression, and then take away any indications of humour in the delivery so that it gives the impression that it is being done completely seriously. Horrible picture, isn't it?! Make it a bit worse still, and then I think you'll be in the right area. This was the one and only fight that I actually wanted to be over asap.
What I also noticed, or at least I think I noticed this, is that Donnie doesn't appear to be as willing as other members of the cast to pull off dangerous stunts. He seemed to be very much a fighter, someone who will put all he can into the fights, but the stunts he does aren't of the same level as the rest of the cast. Maybe he is slightly vain, and doesn't want to risk getting scars or something like that! I don't know... anyway, something else that made me laugh about his character was in the end fight. He and Cynthia Khan were fighting the bad guys at the end. Cynthia and him are fighting the lead bad guy and he pulls a sword of the wall, Cynthia follows suite. Donnie then decides to leave the fight and go and rescue someone who is tied up, with most indications at that point being that all other bad guys were beaten!! That's it, leave the far more potentially dangerous sword fight to the woman! So to sum up Donnie's contribution, the guy clearly has amazing martial arts talent, but I feel yet again it wasn't fully tapped in this film.
The leading lady in the film is Cynthia Khan, another woman who entered into the martial arts action scene without actually being a martial artist. She was a dancer before hand, just like Michelle Yeoh. Around this time, Michelle Yeoh had retired from the film industry, so Hong Kong needed another femme fatale that could take her place. Rather than introducing a new name, they would just introduce a new person, but give her a name that people would be familiar with. Cynthia was taken from Cynthia Rothrock, and Khan was taken from Michelle Yeoh's name at that time, Michelle Khan. And so Cynthia Khan (real name Yeung Lai Ching) was born. In The Line Of Duty was her second film, and I think she crossed the action film barriers with flying colours.
From what I gather she performed the vast majority of her own stunts, and given some of the stuff her character has to do, I am impressed. The one that is most memorable is the fight on the ambulance (and yes I do mean on). She is practically thrown off it, and has to hold on and run along side to stop herself from being run over by the back wheels. Impressive stuff, I think. Being a dancer and female, her moves have more grace to them than most guys' do, and her entire end fight scenes are really quite decent to watch.
Of the other main cast members, Yuen Yat Chor was pretty good at his fights, but alas not overly special. Michael Wong might have done a few of his own moves here and there, but in places it was quite clear that a body double was being used. Now a general point for almost all of the fight scenes: Undercranking is used in many places - In some it works well and blends in, but in others it is quite clear that things have been sped up. Slightly distracting yes, but forgivable I guess.
In short In The Line Of Duty is no revolution for fight films. It won't make you gasp in awe, I don't think it will make you have to tell all your friends about it, and in most places it isn't anything you won't have seen before (assuming you watch lots of Hong Kong martial arts films). What it will do, though, is entertain you for an hour and a half and make you happy that you at least watched it.
Audio & Subtitles
The first thing I noticed about the Cantonese soundtrack was that the speech was clearly post-dubbed, and the lip synchronising is really quite bad at times. This is mainly the case, as practically half the cast don't speak Cantonese. The next thing that really struck me was the DD5.1 claim on the DVD. At times you could think you'd have ground for a false advertising claim, as practically every sound comes from the front centre speaker. In truth I can't recall any sound effect that came from the surround speakers. Anyway, what there is is decent enough. Speech is perfectly audible, and everything sounds fine. Nothing special, but nothing poor. The only thing that is annoying about it is the fact they didn't silence out the noises made by the Caucasian dude who fights Donnie!
Coming from a UK company, the spelling and grammar are perfect as expected. I'm not sure how literal they are though. There was one line of Cantonese which I understood a little bit of, well actually it was just the words for "return back to America", but the associated subtitle line did not have the word America/US in it. It is possible that the subtitles were just simplified a little, as stating America wasn't needed for the understanding of what was going on. That was the only thing I noticed with the subs.
Hong Kong Legends live up to their expected standards with the anamorphic widescreen transfer for In The Line Of Duty. There is hardly a blemish anywhere in the entire film. For a film that was about 12 years old, roughly, that is no mean feat! Colours looked particularly good in quite a few scenes, and I wasn't aware of any grain or anything like that. Detail levels looked good on the whole, but I have seen better from HKL. That's possibly a bit unfair, as if this was a Hong Kong release, I would probably be stating that the details levels were very good, but with HKL's other films as a comparison it doesn't look quite as impressive. Victims of their own merits.
DVD & Extras
There are your usually host of extras on this HKL release of In The Line Of Duty. First of there are biographies on Donnie Yen, Cynthia Khan and Yuen Wo Ping. The Donnie Yen one is an english text affair with an english dictation of the writing. Cynthia Khan's is solely in text, and Yuen Wo Ping's is solely english dictated. While all of them are very informative, I only managed to sit through Cynthia Khan's as the guy who is dictating the other two speaks with a cheesy American accent. It is more bearable for Yuen Wo Ping's as you aren't reading what the person is saying. But for Donnie Yen's I just wished he would shut up and let me read it in peace. Next there is a photo gallery. Pointless in my opinion. The couple that I looked at were stills from the film, of which you could get a better picture if you just went to that scene and paused the DVD. Next up there are In The Line Of Duty's trailers: The UK promo one and the International one.
The main extra is the interview with Donnie Yen. If you are one of the people who tends to think Donnie Yen comes across as little arrogant and with a bit of an ego, then this interview isn't going to change your opinion. Yes it is informative, but some of the things Donnie says I found to be a little arrogant. In talking about the difference between doing martial arts and doing martial arts on camera, he states that doing it in front of the camera is so much harder. Fair enough, but he says things like martial artists who have been "training for however many years they claim to have been training for" (not a direct quote but is the general idea) are rubbish on the camera, because they can't do things that he can do. His attitude came across to me very much as "look at me, I'm so great". I was also very surprised/shocked about what he said about his co-star Cynthia Khan. He may have got his words slightly wrong here, but in talking about Cynthia coming across as a believable martial artist and action star, he mentions how much Yuen Wo Ping helped her. But he then stated "...the only credit I can give Cynthia" is that she was very brave, fearless. Only? Only credit? I think that is being unbelievable harsh. The woman clearly worked herself extremely hard for this film, putting in a hell of a lot of effort and pain. She did the vast majority of her own stunts, and helped the film be what it is. To me that deserves a lot more credit than just saying she was very brave and fearless. Penultimately on the DVD there are trailers for ten other Hong Kong Legends films, and lastly the audio commentary from Stefan Hammond and the film's co-star Michael Wong.
A word of warning though about the DVD menus: If you don't know what happens in the film, then I suggest you start the film as soon as possible once the menus come up. The reason for this is that the menus show clips of fights from the film, and quite stupidly HKL have included clips from the end fight, and basically gives a major spoiler as to what is going to happen when you actually watch the film. This was really a very stupid and thoughtless move on HKL's part.
In The Line Of Duty is a good martial arts film. There are many flaws, and there are many films with better fighting in them, but the 90 minutes that you'll spend watching this are still entertaining nonetheless. For the talent that is involved in the film, I feel it could have been far better though.
Buy this film at