Blu-ray Release: May 16, 2023 (as part of In the Line of Duty: I-IV collection)
Audio: Cantonese and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono; English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Export Cut)
Run Time: 95:24 (Hong Kong Cut), 95:38 (English Export Cut)
Director: Yuen Woo-ping
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 Arthur Wong & Brandy Yuen’s In the Line of Duty III (1988). 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.
Hong Kong police inspector Yeung (Cynthia Kahn) teams up with officers Michael Wong (Michael Wong) and Donny Yan (Donnie Yen) on the trail of an international drug cartel. Along the way, they come across Seattle dock worker Luk (Yuen Yat-chor), who is mistaken for a suspect and taken into custody. Realizing Luk’s innocence, Yeung uncovers a massive conspiracy involving the CIA.
After proving her mettle and box office viability with Arthur Wong & Brandy Yuen’s In the Line of Duty III, D&B Films’ hand-picked Michelle Yeoh replacement, Cynthia Khan, headlined In the Line of Duty IV (aka: Royal Senior Sister IV Direct Witness, 1989). She graduated from playing a street-level upstart to a true Yeoh surrogate Inspector role, carving into cinematic stone her screen persona as a badass women, leader of men, and patron saint of the East Asian Girls with Guns movies (she was named Inspector Yeung in a suspicious number of technically unrelated movies). In the Line of Duty III set the stage, but In the Line of Duty IV delivers the aria. For martial arts fans, however, this particular film also functions outside of the parameters of In the Line of Duty franchise, because, while still sticking to the same general formula of pairing her with a male co-star (as they had with Yeoh for Royal Warriors), producers opted to replace a series of grizzled Japanese sidekicks with a fresh-faced, up-and-coming Hong Kong star named Donnie Yen.
In the Line of Duty IV was the fourth of several beloved collaborations between Yen and another of Hong Kong action’s most important figures – director Yuen Woo-ping. Yuen and Yen first worked together on Drunken Tai Chi in 1984 (Yen’s feature debut), then teamed-up for Mismatched Couples (1985) and Tiger Cage (1988), In the Line of Duty IV, Tiger Cage II (co-starring Khan as another character named Inspector Yeung, 1990), Once Upon a Time in China II (directed by Tsui Hark with choreography by Yuen and Yen, 1992), Iron Monkey (arguably the greatest movie either man ever worked on, 1993), and Wing Chun (starring Michelle Yeoh, 1994). When Hong Kong style action entered the Hollywood mainstream in the early millennium, both men were at the forefront with Yuen acting as choreographer for The Matrix films and Yen appearing in Guillermo del Toro’s Blade II (2002) and David Dobkin’s Shanghai Knights (2003).
For reference, Yuen Woo-ping belongs to a family line of martial arts performers, choreographers, and directors. His father, the Peking Opera-trained Simon (Siu-tien) Yuen, had been acted in films since the late ‘40s and had parts in essential genre masterpieces, like King Hu’s Come Drink with Me (1966), Lau Kar-leung’s The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), and Woo-ping’s Drunken Master (playing his signature character, 1978). His family was essentially raised in the Hong Kong film industry. Simon had eleven (?!) children, the eldest of which became known as the Yuen Clan, including consistent Woo-ping collaborators Cheung-yan and Sunny (Shun-yi), In the Line of Duty III director Brandy (Chun-yeun), and In the Line of Duty IV co-star Yat-chor (not to be confused with director Chor Yuen, no relation). Yen, on the other hand, while a trained actor, was the son of a Tai Chi grandmaster (his mother, Bow-sim Mark), who grew up between Boston and China, and is an award-winning practitioner of practical-use martial arts.
Woo-ping (who I’ll be referring to by his surname from here on to avoid confusion) is best remembered for his innovative, wire-based choreography, something he was experimenting with in the extreme as far back as 1982’s wacky, tragically underseen The Miracle Fighters. This type of balletic fantasy fighting doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the brutal, pulpy hyperrealism of the In the Line of Duty series. Fortunately, Yuen was perfectly capable of matching and even improving upon an established house style. Despite a bit of slapstick and way less on-screen splatter than In the Line of Duty III (no burn victims are dragged across asphalt until their guts fall out), the ferocity of the action is rarely dulled. If anything, there’s more wall-to-wall mayhem than the previous entries, including a fight atop a speeding vehicle that could be considered a dry run for the CG & wire-assisted semi truck fight Yuen choreographed for The Wachowski Sisters’ Matrix Reloaded (2003). Khan’s contributions and increasingly assured performance – both in terms of acting and martial arts – shouldn’t be overlooked, either. In many ways, she and Yat-chor are the leads and Yen is along for the ride, despite the fact that he gets the coolest scene (a battle aboard dirt bikes) and is usually the biggest face on the video box.
I don’t believe we had an official VHS release of In the Line of Duty IV here in the US, but there was a non-anamorphic Tai Seng DVD as early as 1999 and then, thanks to its status as a fan favorite and rising recognition of Yuen Woo-ping in America, Fox Home Entertainment released a barebones, but anamorphically-enhanced DVD in 2003. As in the case of the other movies in this In the Line of Duty I-IV collection, there was an earlier Blu-ray from CMS in HK, as well as a UK-exclusive Eureka release that I assume utilizes the same 2K remaster as this 88 Films disc. Cinematographers Ma Koon-wah & Au Kam-hung’s photography replaces the neon and haze of the previous two films with a cleaner, but also consistently overcast look. The 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer features less natural grain and has minor issues with haloes along the darkest edges, but isn’t unnaturally crisp or overrun with DNR, either. Besides appearing more muted, the palette also has a slight blue/green tint, which wasn’t an unusual stylistic choice for the time and matches previous DVD editions.
In the Line of Duty IV comes fitted with Cantonese and English mono dub options, both in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. The English dub has a minor volume advantage this time around, especially where music is concerned, while the Cantonese track doesn’t struggle with a muffled quality to its dialogue. Again, I don’t believe the major cast is dubbing themselves in either language and a number of actors, including the white dudes playing CIA and American cops (a bunch of scenes are shot in Seattle and Vancouver), and Michael Wong, are speaking English on set. Richard Yuen (no relation?) and Tang Siu-lam are credited with the wonderful score, which fits every expectation for a late ‘80s Hong Kong track or a middle-budget American movie for that matter (the main theme reminded me of Matt Clifford’s Return of the Living Dead title theme). 88 Films has also included the slightly longer English export cut of the film with compressed Dolby Digital English 2.0 mono.
Commentary with Frank Djeng and Michael Worth (Hong Kong Cut) – Critic and NY Asian Film Festival programmer Djeng and the martial artist/filmmaker Worth take one last look at the In the Line of Duty series (if the intro is any indication, they recorded all four tracks in one or two days), covering, as usual, the wider careers of the cast & crew (with emphasis on the Yuen Clan and Donnie Yen), the making and release of the film, connections to the other In the Line of Duty movies, locations, martial arts techniques, and then-current political contexts.
Commentary with Stefan Hammond and actor Michael Wong (Hong Kong Cut) – This track was originally recorded for the Hong Kong Legends DVD and features the author of Sex and Zen & A Bullet in the Head (a formative book on the subject for me personally, 1996, Touchstone) and co-star (who is originally from New York and couldn’t speak Cantonese at the time of making the film). It’s not as fact-a-minute as Djeng & Worth’s commentary, but it’s great to have Wong’s perspective.
Archival interview with actor Donnie Yen (20:29, SD) – This might be the same interview found on the Hong Kong Legends DVD, but I’m not positive. Either way, Yen speaks about the Hong Kong action industry in general and working with Yuen Woo-ping, emphasizing In the Line of Duty IV, but including clips from Iron Monkey and Once Upon a Time in China II.
Hong Kong and 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.