The Film

With Everything Everywhere All At Once looking a likely Best Picture Oscar nominee, starring roles in the new Witcher spin off at Netflix and American Born Chinese for Disney+ and the small matter of the Avatar sequels, Michelle Yeoh is having a banner year in 2022, in which she also turned 60.

Eureka’s new release of Yes, Madam (previously on UK DVD from Hong Kong Legends under the title Police Assassins) turns the clock back to the very beginning of Yeoh’s career, aged 23, in her first leading role.

Yeoh plays Inspector Ng. Her friend, also a cop, from the UK is murdered and the microfilm he was carrying unknowingly acquired by three bumbling thieves (John Sham, Mang Hoi and Tsui Hark as, respectively, Strepsil, Aspirin and Panadol), who get wrapped up with the gangsters who want killed Ng’s friend for the film. Yeoh then teams up with Scotland Yard detective Carrie Morris (Cynthia Rothrock in her film debut) to solve the murder, get the film and take down the gang.

Yes Madam Blu-rayYes, Madam is credited as one of the films that kickstarted the ‘girls with guns’ subgenre of martial arts films, which isn’t one I’m especially familiar with (how about some Moon Lee films next, Eureka?) but what’s actually surprising about seeing it now is how much of the film concentrates on the slapstick antics of the thieves. Tsui Hark, better known as the director behind, among many others, the Once Upon a Time in China series, Zu: Warriors From the Magic Mountain and Peking Opera Blues is purely an actor for this and his weird performance as the technically savvy but otherwise chaotic Panadol has some very fine slapstick moments. The same is true, individually, of John Sham and co action director Mang Hoi, but put the three of them together, as director Corey Yuen Kwai does for most of their screentime, and it’s just an overload of chaotic silliness that feels disconnected from the girls with guns aspect of the film.

Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock may have less to do in terms of pure screentime (Rothrock especially, as she first appears around half an hour into the film), but they dominate in terms of presence and impact. It has to be said that Rothrock, in her native language, has never been the most gifted actor, or had the widest emotional range. The dubbing doesn’t do much for her in either direction, though she does talk, on her scene specific commentary, about learning to use the same amount of syllables in the English she spoke on set as were in the Cantonese lines, so the dubbing matched better. It’s hardly seamless, but when you look closely at what she’s doing, it’s an effective choice.

Yes Madam Blu-rayAction wise, Rothrock blasts on to the screen, introduced as a woman taken hostage in an airport, we only realise she’s the Scotland Yard detective when she beats her assailant down in a fast and furious display of technique (she was world champion in forms and weapons – a unisex discipline – five times). Her short hair and brutal looking movement mark her out as different from the more balletic style that some female stars kung fu can take on, and that force also comes through in her attitude in the character. Whether it was her choice or Yuen Kwai’s, having her sit on the desk during an interrogation with a suspect early on in her role establishes more of a maverick don’t fuck with me energy, which Rothrock carries through in every role I’ve seen her in.

Though she’s not a trained martial artist, Yeoh matches Rothrock blow for blow and stunt for stunt. The film’s opening scene has her exchanging gunfire with a gang of bank robbers in a dynamic action sequence that shows Yuen Kwai and his stunt tram have just as much aptitude for gunfights as they do martial arts action and as ever Yeoh’s dance training pays off in allowing her to learn and mimic movement. As with Rothrock, her performance is dubbed whichever way you watch it, so the acting is hard to comment on, but as young and inexperienced as she is here, her inherent presence can already be felt.

The action is great throughout, but it’s too lightly sprinkled across the roughly 65 minutes it takes to get to the finale fight. Once Yeoh and Rothrock turn up to main villain James Tien’s lair, to face off with Chung Fat and Dick Wei (one of the great Hong Kong heavies of the ’80s), Yuen Kwai, Mang Hoi and their stunt team let themselves completely off the leash, smashing so much glass that you’d be forgiven for wondering if they were having a contest with Jackie Chan, who was probably shooting Police Story, which would open two weeks after Yes, Madam, at the same time.

The fight is a masterclass in building spectacular moments into a cohesive setpiece, whether it’s Rothrock’s trademark scorpion kick to Dick Wei’s head or Yeoh falling backwards over a banister, through a sheet of glass, gabbing two bad guys by their legs and throwing them through and to the ground, there are moments here that are made to be rewound and played in slow motion. The two actresses also complement each other brilliantly: Rothrock the harder hitting, Yeoh the more graceful. They start off with an iconic, much GIF-ed, gimme five into a ready stance, and take on their own fights, before combining their styles to finally take down their foes. It’s a spectacular sequence which also shows off the mastery of action choreography and the secret weapon status of editor Peter Cheung who, from Fist of Fury up to Jackie Chan’s Who Am I?, probably edited your favourite martial arts film.

Yes, Madam doesn’t entirely come together, because the two sides of the film just don’t mesh, and for me the energy drops a lot when it’s wading through long comedy sequences (including one with guest appearances from Sammo Hung and Richard Ng). When the focus is on the action, it’s stunningly good, but that’s really only about a third of the film, and for my liking, that ratio is the wrong way round.


The Disc

Yes Madam Blu-ray

Eureka continue to deliver the goods with their martial arts restorations. Yes, Madam won’t exactly be a high end demonstration disc for your A/V setup, but the 2K restored picture is clean and clear, delivering more detail and better colours than any previous release. All the language options are accessible from the main menu. I went with the theatrical Cantonese mix. It’s a mono track, so it’s limited, but it’s well balanced and as ever with the choice of dubs, infinitely more pleasurable (for me) to listen to than the English track.

The Extras

Yes Madam Blu-ray

A slightly smaller selection than some of Eureka’s martial arts releases, but there are many welcome new inclusions. The booklet with James Oliver’s writing wasn’t included with my screener, but his essays always illuminate the film and the culture surrounding it, I’m sure this one won’t be any different in that regard.

The same could be said of the two full length commentaries. Frank Djeng again delivers more information than you’d think possible, leading his co-commentator Michael Worth to ask, several times, if he remembered to breathe. Djeng also moderates the select scene commentary with Rothrock. It’s a crying shame it’s only 2 scenes and 12 minutes long, as it packs a lot in and Rothrock is very much engaged. I’d love to hear a full track from them.

The second full length commentary is from seasoned Eureka team Mike Leeder and Arne Venema. Again it’s got plenty of info, but I’d say you only need one of the full length tracks, so pick the team you most enjoy the dynamic of. New extras are rounded out by a couple of interviews. First up, 20 minutes with Cynthia Rothrock, who expands on the stories from her commentary and seems to be enjoying herself. The other interview is 15 minutes with Mang Hoi, who starts by talking about studying under Madame Fan Fok Fa (who ran the Opera school that was one of the most prominent rivals to Yu Jim Yuen’s, where Sammo Hung, Jacke Chan, Yuen Kwai and many more trained) before discussing his film career and Yes, Madam.

From the archives (the Hong Kong Legends disc) there is a 15 minute interview (with pretty rough sound) with Michelle Yeoh and a 10 minute feature called Battling Babes, which spotlights martial arts actresses and stuntwomen Sophia Crawford, Michiko Nishiwaki, Yukari Oshima, Moon Lee and Kathy Long it’s fun enough, but only related to Yes, Madam in that Cynthia Rothrock also appears and a clip from it plays. The package is finished off with both HK theatrical and UK video trailers for Yes, Madam.

Yes, Madam Blu-ray
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yes-madam-blu-ray-reviewMichelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock both blast their way into leading roles with some stunningly good action. The comedy may leave Western audiences cold, but the fights and another excellent presentation from Eureka are worth the price of admission.