J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Old School Kung Fu ’17: Yes, Madam

It was the start of something big, in many ways. It was Michelle Yeoh’s first film as a lead and Cynthia Rothrock’s very first acting gig. It was only the second feature directed by Corey Yuen and launched the loosely connected In the Line of Duty franchise. Some even credit it as the first of the so-called “girls with guns” action movie subgenre, but the basic elements in question seem like perennial fan favorites that have always been with us. Regardless, there is a special place in many fans’ hearts for Yuen’s Yes, Madam, which screens during this year’s Old School Kung Fu Fest at the Metrograph.

When Senior Inspector Ng is your superior officer, you darn well better say “Yes, Madam.” To resolve any doubts, we will watch her handily handle a gang of armored car in the prologue. Unfortunately, Richard Nornen, a friend and colleague from Scotland Yard is murdered to recover a piece of microfilm (remember that Macguffin?) that could incriminate Hong Kong’s biggest Triad boss. Inadvertently, two of the city’s dimmest criminals take possession of it when they swipe the dead man’s passport for their forger crony, embroiling themselves in a world of trouble.

Inspector Carrie Morris arrives from England just in time to land a few blows on the unfortunate punk trying to leave HK using Nornen’s doctored passport. She is the rule-breaking Oscar Madison to Ng’s straight-laced Felix Unger, but they both have mad martial arts chops.

Yes, Madam is just awesomely eighties. Yeoh (than billed as Michelle Khan) looks totally fab in Miami Vice whites and pastels, while Rothrock rocks the Michael Jackson jacket. Technically, it harkens back to 1978, but the cues “borrowed” from Carpenter’s Halloween also reinforce the 80s nostalgia.

Frankly, the screenplay is nothing special, but the morally ambiguous ending still packs a kick. Regardless, the climatic fight sequence entirely justifies the price of admission on its own. Set in the villain’s luxury condo (which is decked out with an unusual amount of glass furnishings and partitions), it features Yeoh’s athleticism and Rothrock’s chops to dazzling, star-making effect.

As added bonuses for the faithful, there is a head-scratching cameo from producer Sammo Hung and a weirdly poignant turn from future action-auteur Tsui Hark as Panadol, the profoundly unlucky forger. Yeoh would come back for the sequel, before turning the franchise over to Cynthia Khan, whose name was deliberately chosen to echo the two Yes, Madam co-stars. Yes, the film certainly has women with guns, but it takes flight when they use their fists and feet. Affectionately recommended for Yeoh and Rothrock fans, Yes, Madam screens this Sunday evening (8/20), concluding the 2017 edition of Old School Kung Fu at the Metrograph.

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