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: 96:36
Director: David Chung
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), Arthur Wong & Brandy Yuen’s In the Line of Duty III (1988), 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.
Returning from her holiday in Japan, Inspector Yip (Michelle Yeoh) foils a daring mid-air rescue of a gangster being returned to Hong Kong for trial. But now she needs to watch her back, because that gangster has friends. (From 88 Films’ official synopsis)
Considered either the first or second film in the In the Line of Duty franchise, depending on who you ask, David Chung’s Royal Warriors was not made as a part of a series, but as one of D&B Films’ early theatrical projects for a young Michelle Yeoh (credited at the time as Michelle Khan). Chung ended up directing two Yeoh movies for D&B Films, following Royal Warriors up a year later with Magnificent Warriors (1986). Despite similar titles (Magnificent Warriors was named Dynamite Fighters and Royal Warriors retitled Ultra Force in some territories), the same basic genre, studio, producer, and star, the two films are quite different. Chung and Yeoh’s second collaboration is a fun, often funny Indiana Jones-esque adventure/period piece, while this first team-up is a rough, violent, and lightning-paced cop movie. Arguably, it fits the In the Line of Duty canon better than Corey Yuen’s more comedic and lighthearted Yes, Madam.
Not to be confused with Godfrey Ho’s Hands of Death (1987), which is sometimes known as Royal Warriors, is visually quite distinct from Magnificent Warriors, exchanging earthy Indiana Jones environments for hyper-stylized modern settings. Chung and coordinator Hoi Mang stage furious, sometimes shockingly violent fisticuffs and shoot-outs, punctuated by brain-meltingly dangerous stunts and vehicular mayhem. The unrelenting and eclectic action is the highlight, but the film’s secret weapons are screenwriter Tsang Kan-Cheung’s sense of melodrama and Man Kit Wan’s (a pseudonym for Wah Ma Chun & Derek Wan) fabulously gritty and occasionally neon-soaked, Miami Vice-inspired photography. Compared to Yes, Madam, Royal Warriors is also the better Yeoh vehicle, since she doesn’t have to share screen time with an equally charismatic Cynthia Rothrock or, more importantly, a cadre of funny men who take up more than half the film with their Lucky Stars-like antics (that said, Yeoh and Rothrock have great chemistry and I wish they’d made more movies together). Here, she’s a true co-lead with Hiroyuki Sanada (who, as an aside, has been having a hell of a Hollywood career of late), rather than a smaller piece of a mismatched ensemble.
Chung has an impressive and diverse resume as a cinematographer, including Tsui Hark’s Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind (1980), Ann Hui’s Boat People (1982), Alex Law’s Painted Faces (1988), Jing Wong’s God of Gamblers (1989), and Tsui’s Once Upon a time in China (1991). His director’s CV, on the other hand, was much shorter, consisting of The Chase (co-directed with Ping To, 1977), It's a Drink! It's a Bomb! (produced by Sammo Hung, 1985), the two Michelle Yeoh vehicles, the charming sci-fi-sex-comedy I Love Maria (co-directed with Tsui Hark; aka: Roboforce, 1988), and Web of Deception (1989). While I wouldn’t necessarily call him underrated (his career is celebrated and well-respected), he deserves recognition for Royal Warriors, which often matches the style and energy of a John Woo movie, but was actually released a couple of months before A Better Tomorrow (produced by Tsui, 1986) cemented Woo’s most important trademarks.
Despite its stellar reputation, Royal Warriors didn’t have an official stateside home video released until 1999, when Tai Seng put out a widescreen tape to coincide with the release of Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), pushing the fact that Yeoh was now a Bond Girl. This was followed by a barebones Twentieth Century Fox DVD in 2004, a 2011 barebones Blu-ray from CMS Media in HK, and, now, duel 2023 special edition Blu-rays from Eureka in the UK and 88 Films here in the US as part of the In the Line of Duty I-IV collection. Man Kit Wan’s smokey, neon and pastel photography is designed more for the overall vibe than pop or clarity, but this 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer is still plenty vibrant and well separated where it counts. The diffused look and thick atmosphere pumps up the grain, which remains relatively natural, only clumping up during the foggiest sequences. Surprisingly, it’s the plain, shot-in-daylight sequences that look a little fuzzy and underwhelming to my eye. Probably just a product of the filmmakers not having control over their environment.
Royal Warriors comes fitted with two Cantonese option – the original and alternate home video mixes, both in mono, and two English options, the original mono and a 5.1 remix. I’d recommend against the 5.1 option, because it sounds so thin and artificial, but the other options each have unique advantages and disadvantages. The 5.1 remix doesn’t take as many weird liberties as similar tracks, but is still overly noisy, so I’d recommend that anyone preferring an English dub stick to mono. I ended up preferring the English track myself, since none of the dubs (the film was shot without on-set sound and the Maylay, Japanese, and American cast were not native Cantonese speakers) are particularly convincing, the English cast is good, and whoever mixed the tracks added more music. The trade off is that the sound quality is thinner. Yes, Madam composer Romeo Díaz returns to the series (even though it wasn’t a series yet) for a killer synth score, one that scores extra points for not lifting bits from John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). I don’t know if he composed all of the additional English dub music, but it all fits the same mold.
Commentary with Hong Kong film expert Frank Djeng – The critic, expert, and NY Asian Film Festival programmer offers up yet another fantastically fact-filled discussion, covering the history of the In the Line of Duty series, the making-of and release of Royal Warriors, the careers of the cast & crew, various locations, connections to Hollywood movies and the Peking Opera, and the logistics of stunts and action. Frank also asks that you check out his Yes, Madam commentary for more on D&B Films and Yeoh.
English In the Line of Duty title sequence (2:57, HD)
Missing Airplane scene inserts (0:29, HD)
Hong Kong and English 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.