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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

The Inspector Wears Skirts Blu-ray Review



88 Films

Blu-ray Release: December 26, 2023

Video: 1.85:1/1080p/Color

Audio: Cantonese and English LPCM 2.0 Mono.

Subtitles: English

Run Time: 95:47

Director: Wellson Chin


Note: Parts of this review have been recycled from my review of Corey Yuen’s Yes, Madam (1985).


In reaction to rising crime, the Hong Kong police force develops an all-female squad, codenamed SKIRTS. A misfit group of young women is recruited and wrung through a brutal training regiment by Madam Yu (Sibelle Hu) and Madam Law (Cynthia Rothrock) in preparation to take on terrorist jewelry thieves. 



In China, the tradition of female warriors in fiction dates back to their Peking Opera and serial novel heritages, where actors and writers had a veritable catalog of folk heroines, like Hua Mulan, Fan Lihua, and Mu Guiying, at their disposal. On film, preeminent wuxia trendsetter King Hu (Hu Jinquan) drew upon the historic tradition of the female knight-errant for groundbreaking hits, including Come Drink with Me (1966) and Dragon Inn (1967), inspiring a run of similar movies that led into the ‘70s. In an effort to overtake their competition, Golden Harvest groomed hapkido artist Angela Mao to be their “Lady Bruce Lee,” casting her in hits, like Hapkido (aka: Lady Kung Fu, 1972). Soon after, choreographer-turned-director Lau Kar-leung began padding his late-stage Shaw Bros. supporting casts with fight-trained women, culminating in 1981’s comedic kung fu classic My Young Auntie (aka: Fangs of The Tigress, 1981). Finally, in the mid-’80s, as Hong Kong/Taiwanese action began to prioritize modern-set films over costume dramas, studios began the search for a feminine equivalent to new cinema idols, like Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, which brings us to a loosely related series of lady-led, full-throttle martial arts crime classics known as the In the Line of Duty franchise.


One series that spun directly out of In the Line of Duty and the new Girls with Guns subgenre was The Inspector Wears Skirts, totalling four official entries released between 1988 and 1992. The first, Wellson Chin’s appropriately titled The Inspector Wears Skirts (aka: Top Squad and Lady Enforcer, 1988) doesn’t follow a single female action hero cop or even a duo, but an entire squad of women as they transform from make-up obsessed girls into hardened urban commandos. Inspector Wears Skirts dials back on the raw violence and convoluted espionage of its predecessors, replacing it with slapstick and situational comedy antics, aside from the surprisingly brutal opening credit sequence and climax. The bulk of the film is basically a gender-flipped Lucky Stars take on the Police Academy formula. If that sounds like a good time, I can almost guarantee you’ll love it. If that sounds kind of obnoxious, it can be, but don’t worry, because the action scenes that bookend the dopey comedy are top of the line and easily on par with the In the Line of Duty movies. Action choreography was supplied by Jackie Chan and the Jackie Chan Stunt Team, who are credited as stunt and fight choreographers, respectively. 



The main cast is anchored by members of the stunt team (Chan doesn’t cameo and apparently wasn’t ever on set), the established stardom titular Young Auntie herself, Kara Wai, as the star pupil and, as the squad leader and taskmaster, Lucky Stars series alum Sibelle Hu. The team features Regina Kent, hot off of Jackie Chan’s Project A Part II (1987) and John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow 2 (1987), and Sandra Ng, who had a part in Arthur Wong & Brandy Yuen’s In the Line of Duty III the same year as The Inspector Wears Skirts. Of course, if the US/UK advertising is to be believed, Cynthia Rothrock is the central star. Rothrock had an instant and seismic impact on the industry following her debut in Yes, Madam. Prior to acting, she held multiple black belts, was five-time weapons forms category World Champion, and was working with Ernie Reyes Sr.’s West Coast demonstration team. As practically the only recognizable white woman making martial arts movies at the time, her appeal was initially exotic, but she quickly broke out as a performer, becoming an A-lister in Hong Kong and a respectable B-lister in North America. Her screen time here is mostly limited to the opening scene and final act, but she makes a strong impression, armed with a comically gigantic handgun and flashy ‘80s fashions.


Wellson Chin was an actor before he started directing, appearing in a number of Sammo Hung produced and/or directed pictures, including Knockabout (1979), Encounters of the Spooky Kind (1980), Prodigal Son (1981), and Winners and Sinners (1983). Relevant to this review, he also had a part in Yes, Madam (1985) and his directorial debut was the comedy-heavy girl action movie Naughty Boys (1986). He went on to direct all four movies in the Inspector Wears Skirts franchise, as well as Super Lady Cop, starring In the Line of Duty 3 and 4 lead Cynthia Khan. 



Video

I can’t find any proof that The Inspector Wears Skirts was released on VHS here in the US, but the film was released on UK VHS as Top Squad with Rothrock taking center stage. I assume there were also English subtitled tapes and VCDs from Hong Kong companies. There have definitely been English subtitled HK and German DVDs, but no official North American option until it showed up on streaming (currently, Amazon Prime is the only version available). The first Blu-ray came from HK company CMS Media; however, it is rumored to be an upscaled anamorphic transfer.


This US BD debut from 88 Films (also debuting in Canada and the UK) is taken from a new 2K scan of the original negatives and matches the recently established expectations for the company’s other Fortune Star releases. The footage was shot on the quick and cinematographers Jimmy Au Kam-Hung and Andrew Lau (the same guy that co-directed the Infernal Affairs films) fill the frame with starbursts, haze, layered gels, and/or colored lights, so it’s consistently rough and grainy, but also lively and colorful. Actual print damage is minimal, including small scratches and a few white dots, while compression issues pertain mostly to the sheen on grainy shots. Details struggle a bit during the harshly lit daylight scenes, but patterns and textures are otherwise crisp, considering the condition of the material.



Audio

The Inspector Wears Skirts is presented with Cantonese and English dub options, both in uncompressed LPCM mono sound. As per usual, the bulk (if not the entirety) of the film was shot without sound and dubbed in post with Cantonese and English audiences in mind. In this case, the Cantonese lip sync lines up really well (Frank Djeng claims that most of the main cast dubbed themselves, aside from Rothrock, who has been given a British accent), but the English dub isn’t bad and the two tracks are nearly identical in terms of audio quality. The original score is supplied by Noel Quinlan and suffers a bit from that unnatural, completely composed in an early ‘80s synthesizer quality, but is cool and sets the perfect tone whenever it’s embracing its poppy qualities, rather than trying to sound symphonic. The main theme mixes together almost perfectly with Claudio Simonetti’s “Demon” from Lamberto Bava’s Demons (1985).



Extras

  • Commentary with Frank Djeng – Everyone’s favorite Asian film expert discusses the larger careers of the cast & crew, The Inspector Wears Skirts’ place in the ‘80s/early ‘90s Hong Kong canon, the base concept of a female-led film that combined aspects of Golden Harvest’s action and comedy franchises, Jackie Chan’s participation (which was minimal), locations, local HK culture, and box office. He also shares a couple of personal stories, including one about working with Stanley Fung.

  • Shooting Her Shot (16:46, HD) – Cynthia Rothrock looks back on The Inspector Wears Skirts, being cast after the film had already started filming to add more action, working on two movies at once (she was also in Mang Hoi’s Lady Reporter), befriending Sibelle Hu (who she could converse with in English), shooting on a big set and without a script, creating her own character without direction, working with Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan’s stunt teams (she was disappointed to not meet Chan), and the perils of a big fire stunt. 

  • The Director Wears Pants (16:03, HD) – Director Wellson Chin chats about entering the industry and rising through the ranks, working with Chan and Hung, the development of Inspector Wears Skirts, not being truly inspired by Hugh Wilson’s Police Academy (1984), casting, convincing Sandra Ng to swallow her pride and be a clown, the film’s budget, the logistics of shooting action, and stunt antics.

  • Alternate Top Squad English opening and closing credits (2:47, HD)

  • Hong Kong and English export trailer

  • Stills gallery

 



The images on this page are taken from the BDs and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.

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