Inspector Ng (Michelle Yeoh) walks into a newsagents and browses the shelves, when a man makes eye contact with her and appears to want to chat her up – but what he actually wants to do is expose himself to her by flashing his mac. However, she is expecting this and traps his manhood in a folder she has grabbed, then orders her underlings to take the man away, another pervert off the streets, but on emerging from the shop there is a further problem, a bank robbery. Ng is more than capable of handling a bunch of gun-toting criminals and sets about shooting them to prevent their nefarious plan going ahead, and soon the gang is either dead or incapacitated thanks to her intervention…
But that wasn’t really the beginning of the plot, for that commenced when our heroine goes to visit an old friend from Scotland Yard who she hasn’t seen in a while, then is horrified to find dead of a wound to the head. What has happened is an assassination, and all for the movie’s MacGuffin, a sliver of microfilm that details a contract a rich gangster businessman (James Tien) would prefer not to be shared with the authorities. But what had genuinely happened was an ushering in of popularity for female martial arts stars in the mid-eighties, in this case the stardom of Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock, playing her foreign partner, who as you may have expected were a mismatched pair, as per the conventions of the genre.
Only they weren’t so mismatched that they were unable to get the job done, so naturally by the finale they are a perfect partnership and the major fight setpiece we were all anticipating, where they took on a room full of bad guys, was well underway. Before that stage there was a lot of semi-humorous to-ing and fro-ing between the bumbling criminals who now have the microfilm after they stole the dead cop’s passport, and the investigation from Ng and Rothrock’s Inspector Carrie Morris, who arrives and makes a mark with her beat ‘em up skills, which gives her the nickname Nasty White Bitch. Not the most progressive of monikers, but the point was well made, you don’t mess with her unless you wish your ass handed back to you.
Of course, there were a host of female martial arts actresses in the Far East’s motion picture industries, but somehow Yeoh and Rothrock (in her debut) really caught on here and soon a whole bunch of armed and dangerous, high-kicking ladies were making their mark in Hong Kong cop thrillers, so much so that it could almost be called a subgenre unto itself. Many regarded Police Assassins, which went under a host of other names like Yes Madam, In the Line of Duty 2 or Super Cops, and that’s just the English language ones, as a turning point, as it certainly put its two leading ladies on the map, though Rothrock would end up mostly in straight to video efforts while Yeoh remained an Asian megastar across her career.
Yet they weren’t the whole story, as it was as much the endeavours of director and choreographer Corey Yuen who knew how to frame the action to make the most of a relatively low budget that could be seen as a major contribution to the film’s status. Nevertheless, if you have little patience for the antics of second bananas John Sham and Mang Hoi then you could find yourself yearning for the return of the women to the screen as they faff about with a series of scenes placing them in increasing peril, some comedic and some not, along with another director Tsui Hark here supplementing his behind the camera career with one of his forays in front of it as a forger who has a fraught relationship with his cohorts. Producer Sammo Hung showed up in a one scene cameo with two other stars, made to look ageing as they’re meant to be in a retirement home, and that veering between the jokes and the violence was a very recognisable style of the day. But it was that denouement as Ng and Morris go nuts to secure justice that you’ll remember, worth waiting for. Music by Romeo Díaz.
In the nineties, he directed Jet Li in films like The Legend, The Defender and The Enforcer, which led to work as action choreographer on many of Li's Hollywood films, including The One, Kiss of the Dragon and Cradle 2 the Grave. Most recently, Yuen directed the Luc Besson-produced action hit The Transporter.