Yes, Madam 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 mixes DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono; English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono.
Run Time: 93:53 (Hong Kong Cut), 87:36 (Export Cut)
Director: Corey 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: David Chung’s Royal Warriors (1986), 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).
When gangsters murder her friend, Inspector Ng (Michelle Yeoh) is drawn into a deadly search for the men who did it. It’s just as well that she's got backup from British supercop Carrie Morris (Cynthia Rothrock). (From 88 Films’ official synopsis)
In China, the tradition of female warriors 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.
Yes, Madam was only Yuen’s fourth feature as director following more than a decade of acting, stunt performances, and action choreography. Born Ying Gang-ming, he was trained in the Peking Opera alongside friends Hung, Chan, Yuen Biao, and Yuen Wah, as a member of the famed Seven Little Fortunes. He rose through the ranks alongside his ‘brothers,’ appearing alongside Bruce Lee in Wei Lo’s Fists of Fury (1972), Angela Mao (and Hung) in Hapkido, and Chan & Hung in Heart of Dragon (1985). More recently, he became one of Hollywood’s favorite second unit action directors and made two of the greatest wire-based wuxia movies of the ‘90s in Fong Sai Yuk (aka: The Legend, 1993) and Fong Sai Yuk 2 (aka: The Legend 2, 1993), both starring Jet Li. But, Yes, Madam really set the stage for his career as a director, setting early trademarks, including an intense combination of violence & comedy, lightning fast fisticuffs, colorful photography, and no-nonsense female leads.
Yes, Madam was an enormously influential movie, though its perfect pacing and Yuen’s early technical prowess tend to be overlooked for the fact that it introduced much of the world to two of the most famous women in martial arts cinema. The cast is stuffed with superstars – including bit parts from Hung, Wu Ma, and Richard Ng and sizable supporting roles for Chan/Hung favorites Mang Hoi and John Sham, and New Wave-defining director/producer Tsui Hark – but the main draw is the combination of Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock. Indeed, anytime Yeoh and Rothrock aren’t on screen, the film suffers, becoming a generic D&B Films’ version of one of Hung’s Golden Harvest-produced Lucky Stars adventure comedies. Yuen keeps the comedic scenes spry and quirky (Tsui, who plays the hapless counterfeiter, Panadol, ends up with the best bits), but it still feels like he’s biding his time between action sequences. Apparently, after the film was released, everyone involved agreed that Lucky Stars Lite wasn’t the way to go, opting to focus on high-kicking female cops for future films, leading Yuen to make Righting Wrongs a year later for Golden Harvest and culminating in what became D&B’s larger In the Line of Duty franchise.
Yeoh, a former Malaysia’s Miss World representative, had been discovered by D&B head Dickson Poon and trained in stunt work, kung fu, kickboxing, taekwondo, and Cantonese (she was raised speaking English and Maylay), in hopes of making her into a matinee idol on par with her male counterparts. She quickly followed up Yes, Madam with Royal Warriors (1986), another cop thriller that was retroactively rolled into the In the Line of Duty series, and a pre-WWII-set adventure called Magnificent Warriors (aka: Dynamite Fighters, 1987), both directed by David Chung. After marrying, then divorcing Poon, she emerged from retirement to appear in Stanley Tong’s Police Story 3: Supercop (1992), leading to an incredible career in Hong Kong, China, and Hollywood, culminating recently when she became the first Asian woman to win the Best Actress Oscar for Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert’s Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) (or at least first woman who identified as Asian, since previous winner, Merle Oberon, had disguised her Indian heritage).
While far from the first action movie to feature girls with guns, Yes, Madam is often cited by critics and fans as the catalyst of the ‘80s & ‘90s ‘girls with guns’ subgenre boom, which rocketed beyond the borders of Hong Kong action to big-budget Hollywood movies, like Renny Harlin’s The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996). With movies like this and Police Story 3: Supercop, Yeoh certainly helped boost the genre, but Rothrock more or less built her entire career around being a heavily armed woman who could kick your ass. 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 women making kung fu action movies, her initial appeal was exotic, but she quickly broke out as a performer, becoming an A-lister in Hong Kong and a respectable B-lister in North America, where she grew into something of a female alternative to Steven Seagal and Michael Dudikoff. Her post-Yes, Madam calling cards were (arguably) Yuen’s Righting Wrongs, where she starred alongside Yuen Biao, and Robert Clouse’s China O’Brien and China O’Brien II (both 1990).
Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: The Wuxia Tradition by Stephen Teo (Edinburgh University Press, 2009)
I could have sworn I originally saw Yes, Madam on VHS, but I can’t find any evidence of an official US tape ever existing, so it was either a bootleg (unlikely from a rental shop) or I actually watched the 1998, non-anamorphic Tai Seng DVD. In 2002, Hong Kong Legends released a special edition in the UK and Holland. Additionally, there was a 2011 Blu-ray debut from CMS Media in Hong Kong and nice, UK exclusive collector's edition Blu-ray set from Eureka last year (2022). Lately, ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s Hong Kong/Taiwan titles are being shared by boutique labels, leading to regional exclusives, so, here, in the US, we are finally getting our own Yes, Madam Blu-ray via 88 Films as part of a In the Line of Duty set (see links to the other discs at the top of the page as I complete them). As is normally the case, I’m assuming that 88 Films and Eureka are using the same 2.35:1, 1080p 2K restoration supplied by the folks at Fortune Star, but I don’t have the other disc on hand for a direct comparison.
88 Films has included the original Hong Kong cut of the film (93:53) alongside a shorter export cut (87:36), both taken from the same 2K scan. The transfer is punchy and colorful, but not overly crisp, reproducing cinematographer Bill Wong’s cool, Miami Vice-esque photography. A slight hazy sheen mutes textures and black levels during some of the brighter sequences, but this particular artifact also pops up in early DVDs, as well as similar HK releases from the era, so I suspect it is either a style choice or issue with the film stock. Otherwise, details are complex without any oversharpening effects, compression artifacts are minimal, and grain levels appear accurate. Short of a complete 4K makeover, this is a fantastic upgrade over imports and bootlegs.
Yes, Madam comes with a nice little collection of audio options for the Hong Kong cut, including the original Cantonese theatrical sound, the original English dub, and a Cantonese home video remix, all in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono, as well as a 5.1 English remix, also in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. If you watch the shorter cut, you’ll only have the mono Cantonese to choose from. The English dub isn’t too bad in terms of performance quality (in the original dub, Rothrock’s character has a British accent), but, in the case of both the 5.1 tracks, the multichannel remixing leads to a thinner overall sound, like everything is too far away. The Cantonese mono dub is the way to go, despite a bit of crush and buzz at high volume levels. Romeo Diaz and Tang Siu-lam’s Miami Vice meets low-budget slasher electro score is a huge highlight, though John Carpenter also deserves credit, based on how many clips they, uh, ‘borrowed’ from Halloween (1978).
Commentary with Hong Kong film expert Frank Djeng – The critic, expert, and NY Asian Film Festival programmer actually ended up pulling double duty by recording separate Yes, Madam commentaries for 88 Films and Eureka. The Eureka track included fellow critic and martial artist Michael Worth, but Djeng is solo here. Discussion includes girls with guns movies, the In the Line of Duty series, D&B Films’ history, HK culture and locations (including a working HK international airport), and the careers of the cast & crew.
Select-Scene Commentary with Cynthia Rothrock and Frank Djeng (8:27, HD) – Djeng chats to Rothrock about the planning and filming of the airport fight and the extended finale.
A Team Player (17:50, HD) – This 2022 interview with actress Cynthia Rothrock first appeared on the Eureka BD. In it, she breaks down the majority of her career as a competing martial artist, her Yes, Madam part initially being written for a man, lack of acting experience being compounded by language barriers, Yuen improvising choreography on-set, getting badly injured by a kick from Dik Wei, and the conspiracy of her being so small on the original poster.
Ladies First (13:46, SD) – In the first of two featurettes taken from the 2002 Hong Kong Legends DVD, actor Mang Hoi recalls his training, work as a stuntman and actor, and the making of Yes, Madam.
Interview with Michelle Yeoh (15:05, SD) – The second holdover from the Hong Kong Legends discs features Yeoh telling the story of her upbringing in Britain, training in HK, mainstream success, and stunt antics (mostly concerning Supercop).
Battling Babes (10:23, SD) – Another HK Legends extra featuring interviews with martial artists/stuntwomen/actresses Rothrock, Sophie Crawford, Michiko Nishikawa, Yukari Oshima, Moon Lee, and Kathy Long.
2023 Introduction by Cynthia Rothrock (0:09, HD)
Hong Kong trailer
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.