In the Line of Duty III Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: May 16, 2023 (as part of In the Line of Duty: I-IV collection)
Audio: Cantonese theatrical and home video mix DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono; English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono.
Run Time: 84:27
Director: Arthur Wong & Brandy Yuen
Note: This Blu-ray is currently only available as part of 88 Films’ In the Line of Duty: I-IV four movie collection, which also includes: Corey Yuen’s Yes, Madam (1985), David Chung’s Royal Warriors (1986), and Yuen Woo-ping’s In the Line of Duty IV: Witness (1989). Please read my review of Yes, Madam for an introduction to the In the Line of Duty franchise and the Hong Kong Girls with Guns tradition.
Two Japanese thieves have fled to Hong Kong with a tough J-cop (Cynthia Khan) hot on their heels. It's up to Hong Kong's finest to stop the villains before too much damage is done! (From 88 Films’ official synopsis)
By 1988, Michelle Yeoh had temporarily retired from acting and married D&B Films head Dickson Poon, so the studio needed someone new to replace her as the main female star of their In the Line of Duty series. They settled upon Taiwanese TV talent contest winner Yeung Lai-Ching. Showing major commitment to the girls-with-guns brand, D&B renamed their acquisition Cynthia Khan – a combination of Cynthia Rothrock and Michelle Khan (Yeoh’s stage name) – and set her to work on Arthur Wong & Brandy Yuen’s In the Line of Duty III (1988), the first film in the series to actually be released in theaters as an In the Line of Duty movie. Well, in some territories at least, its Cantonese title was closer to Royal Senior Sister III and some places referred to it as Force of the Dragon, Yes, Madam 2, or Ultra Force III. Either way, the title wasn’t an indication of shared characters and plotlines, but to expect more of what the other movies delivered: lady cops kicking ass.
Knowing they already had a winning formula, D&B doubled-down on everything that worked, magnifying the already breathtaking level of action, making for a movie that’s so excessively violent that it’s almost comical. Though I didn’t keep score, the body count must be in the hundreds and the squibs are juicy, but the highlight is when a severe burn victim tumbles out of a speeding van and is ‘accidentally’ run over by our heroes (his intestines are spread across the road). The script, by Kiu-Ying Chan, is really similar to Royal Warriors (right down to the neon dance club shoot-out set-piece) and doesn’t quite manage to have the same emotional impact, but it gets to the point quickly and serves the more action-forward gameplan. Khan plays an entry-level street cop, instead of a chief inspector, which changes the dynamic, ultimately fitting her persona as a younger version of previous films’ heroines, and offers her character a decent underdog arc, which serves as a kind of meta theme as the unenviable position of ‘The New Michelle Yeoh.’ Kamen Rider himself, Hiroshi Fujioka, replaces Hiroyuki Sanada as an older, even grittier Japanese cop out for revenge, and Michiko Nishiwaki, Stuart Ong, and Dick Wei play a trio of villains so vicious, they’d give Clarence Boddicker pause.
Arthur Wong was, like Royal Warriors director David Chung, primarily known as a cinematographer and it really shows, given the varied range of camera tricks and lighting schemes – not to mention the extended fashion show sequence towards the beginning of the movie. Among his hundreds of credits are Lau Kar-leung’s The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), Sammo Hung’s Heart of Dragon (1985), Jackie Chan’s Armour of God 2: Operation Condor (1991), Tsui Hark’s Once Upon a Time in China (1991), and Yuen Woo-ping’s Iron Monkey (1993). His only other films as director were The Fool’s Escape (1980), Ulterior Motive (2015), and, just last year, Beating Heart (2022). Brandy (Chun-wai) Yuen, on the other hand, was primarily a performer and stunt coordinator, including parts in Jimmy Wang Yu’s The Chinese Boxer (1970), Cheh Chang’s The Delightful Forest (1972) and Disciples of Shaolin (1975), and his brother Yuen Woo-ping’s Drunken Master (1978) and Magnificent Butcher (1979). He also worked as stuntman and consultant on Steve Barron’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990).
Rainbow A/V Incorporation apparently had the rights to release In the Line of Duty III on VHS at some point, but I’ve never seen it. I think anyone who wasn’t importing bootlegs had to wait for Tai Seng’s 1999 non-anamorphic DVD to see the film stateside. Like the other movies in 88 Films’ In the Line of Duty collection, HD versions were released on German Blu-ray and digital streaming services, and there is a matching UK disc available from Eureka, featuring the same 1.85:1, 1080p 2K restoration, though there are likely variations in the actual transfers. The image quality matches the other movies in the collection. Au Kam-Hung & Wong Bo-Man’s cinematography is very gritty and stylish (very similar to Man Kit Wan’s Royal Warriors photography), leading to some particularly grainy sequences and hazy outdoor shots, but overall clarity is consistent, even when fine details appear a bit spongy. Black levels are deep to the point of crush, but this usually fits the tone of the film and doesn’t obscure anything important. The ‘80s-tastic palette is rich, though not as neon-tinged as the previous two films.
In the Line of Duty III is presented with English and Cantonese dub options, both in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio mono. They’re very similar tracks in terms of sound quality, but the Cantonese dub comes off a bit better, simply because the English dialogue is mixed a little too high, drowning out the effects (Frank Djeng notes in his commentary that the entire cast was dubbed by different actors in both languages). Chan Fei-Lit’s music mixes smooth, jazzy synth, even smoother, Vangelis-like neo-noir melodies, and a handful of action cues with truly strange time signatures (I’m almost positive that he stole one particular cue from a Hollywood movie, but I couldn’t accurately place it). It’s a very insistent and loud score, but it works for such a relentless movie and sounds great on either track, despite the lack of stereo enhancement.
Commentary with Frank Djeng and Michael Worth – Everyone’s favorite critic, expert, and NY Asian Film Festival programmer returns for his third 88 Films In the Line of Duty track (technically his sixth, I guess, considering that he recorded different tracks for Eureka) and is joined once again by the martial artist/filmmaker/critic. Subject matter includes an explanation of the series’ naming convention, the greater careers of the cast & crew, shooting locations, the film’s sparing use of comedy, and changes in the Hong Kong action ethos during the ‘80s.
The Golden ‘80s Interview with actor John Sham (25:41, HD) – An interview with actor/producer/D&B co-funder John Sham (who stars in Yes, Madam, but does not appear on screen during In the Line of Duty III) conducted by Frederic Ambroisine. Sham chats about his current company, Dadi Cinema, entering the film industry as a journalist, his working relationship with Tsui Hark and Patrick Tam, helping to discover Michelle Yeoh, giving Brandon Lee his first lead acting role, working as producer (and sometimes actor) on various movies, and his five favorite films as producer.
English credit sequence (2:20, HD)
Hong Kong trailer and two English language trailers
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.