In the Line of Duty Review
In the Line of Duty is a popular series of action films from Hong Kong of which there are currently 7 iterations, this particular installment is known as In the Line of Duty Part 4: Witness, but to save any confusion for this UK release HKL have simply released it under the moniker of In the Line of Duty. The Hong Kong subtitle, Witness, is actually a valid way to introduce the story. Things kick off when Luk (Yuen Yat Chor from The Postman Fights Back) witnesses the murder of a Police Officer by CIA agents selling drugs as part of an undercover operation. To protect their identity the CIA agents (who are crooked if you had not already guessed!) are now after Luk, who has also become the prime suspect in the dead Police Officers murder case. Heading up the Police investigation are American cops Donnie Yen (Iron Monkey) and Michael Wong, with Cynthia Khan joining as their Hong Kong liaison. When they take Luk into custody they end up having to protect him due to constant attempts on his life, throughout this they eventually unravel a web of deceit that basically offers up a fantastic excuse to serve up a non-stop ride of action based thrills.
The story is pretty derivative and to be honest the acting (from Yen and Wong in particular) makes you think the cast realised this while filming as they are certainly going through the motions so to speak. What is important here are the various action sequences that keep the film moving during the occasional story driven moments and the traditional Chinese comedy (a mixture of situation based comedy and outright slapstick) that is actually quite funny depending on the viewers mood.
Lets dive straight into the action though, as the film certainly does. Considering Cynthia Khan had no formal martial arts training she certainly holds her own, demonstrating both weapon skills (with a fantastic set of improvised spanner based nunchuku) and hand to hand combat she is also no slouch in the stunts department with the fight on top of a moving Ambulance elevating her to 'insane' status! The reason this film interested me though is also what everyone will mostly take pleasure in watching, and that is the formidable talent of Donnie Yen. As you watch him go up against Western Martial Arts champions John Salvitti (who puts on a fantastically comical style!) and Michael Woods you can only but pick up the pieces as your chin hits the floor. The speed and fluidity in which he executes his multitude of kicks is quite staggering, but what really makes him a joy to watch is the way he knows how to play to the camera, moments like his Ali shuffle (better known as the Morpheus shuffle these days!) and his wind-up punch (with a look of glee on his face!) are great fun to watch and elevate the onscreen action no end.
There are however a couple of areas where the action scenes are a let down. The first problem is in the occasional use of under-cranking (camera speed-up) that, particularly for the Donnie Yen fight scenes is simply not needed because of his natural speed, but with the additional speed-up the action takes on a slightly fake appearance. Secondly the use of stunt doubles is blatantly obvious. For the most outrageous example of this take a close look at Cynthia Khan's (who herself is doubled a lot) blonde opponent (US Karate Champion Farlie Ruth Kokdica apparently) who is actually quite scary herself, but even more so when you see a man in a blonde wig taking her place! These points however are minor faults that even have a moderately funny side to them and I am sure you will not let this prevent your enjoyment of what really is a non-stop action movie (something that is all to rare these days) with some of the best kicking displays I have yet seen.
This DVD release is dual encoded for R2/R4.
Presented at its original 1:77:1 Aspect Ratio featuring Anamorphic enhancement In the Line of Duty is another high quality release from the folks at Hong Kong Legends. The print used has undergone the usual restoration work and as a result you will see barely any dirt or white specks and only a minimal level of grain. Detail levels are particularly good considering the films age, colours are clean with no signs of bleeding while blacks are generally very good except for one predominantly dark scene where some slight compression problems show up in the form of pixellation (this is very brief though and is more likely dependent on your set-up).
Provided for your aural delights are both the original Cantonese Language track and of course the English Dub, both are presented in remixed Dolby Digital 5.1. Both tracks sounds good throughout the movie, little use is made of the rears (as is to be expected) but the music and effects are spread well across the front speakers, with the subwoofer coming into play with the meaty sound effects. Dialogue is clear at all times thanks to good use of the centre speaker. As ever I choose to watch these films in their original language with HKL always excellent subtitles (Both English and Dutch are provided in an easy to read white font), but for those interested in the English Dub then you will be happy to know that this is a reasonable effort. The dialogue is fairly close to that of the Cantonese version while the choice of voice actors is generally pretty good (including Chow Yun-Fat's resident English dub actor taking Donnie Yens role). Nothing to do with the sound quality, but something I noticed was that providing this release contains the original music then John Woo would later go on to use one of the themes for Once A Thief!
Released at the same time as The Postman Fights Back this HKL DVD also features a Stefan Hammond audio commentary as its main extra feature. By placing one of the films main actors, Michael Wong, inside the recording booth this Audio Commentary manages to better the yawn fest featured on The Postman Fights Back DVD, but only just. Stefan Hammond (a Hong Kong film expert who has penned several books on the subject) again takes pride in summarising the films plot as we go along, but fortunately Michael Wong is there to add the occasional comment, unfortunately these comments are never any more in-depth than filming locations and how nice the cast were onset. Wong does however manage to upstage Hammond when it comes to knowledge of Donnie Yens background, informing Hammond that Yen's mother is a famous martial arts master (something that Hammond seems to have trouble comprehending) - this kind of basic information is present in the far more in-depth biographies section! As irritatingly low on information as this commentary is it was none-the-less fairly entertaining if only to hear two people genuinely enjoying the film, and in the case of Wong, watching the film for the first time since its premiere back in 1989. Although this commentary does not come recommended you may just find it a worthwhile listen (unlikely though!).
The other main extra that will be of interest to fans is the 20-minute interview with Donnie Yen. Starting off with some previously seen footage (from the OUATIC2 disc) where he speaks of the arduous training regimes and shooting schedules of the early Hong Kong films, his inspiration in the form of Bruce Lee and how he started in the film industry the interview soon moves on to focus on In the Line of Duty. Here Yen talks about his main opponent (Michael Woods), co-star Cynthia Khan, Yuen Woo-Pings direction and the particularly dangerous Motorbike stunts, all interspersed with a selection of scenes from various movies available on the HKL label. This is a great addition to the disc that will certainly raise a smile (More Power!) and of course makes for interesting viewing (and offers considerably more information on the film than the Audio Commentary does).
In the biographies section of the disc you will find three detailed sections on the films main stars, Donnie Yen and Cynthia Khan as well as a section for the films director, Yuen Woo-Ping. Yen is treated to a lengthy animated biography that is typically in-depth with plenty of useful information on his life so far including his training and of course his film work as both an actor, choreographer and director. Cynthia Khan is treated to a 23 screen text-based biography that, while not quite as in-depth as Donnie Yens has enough information to satisfy any fan and of course deliver a decent primer on this popular actress (at least in Hong Kong). Finally, we see Yuen Woo-Ping treated to a spoken biography that is delivered over some fantastic clips from the films he is associated with that are available via Hong Kong Legends (this biography is available on several other HKL releases including Magnificent Butcher).
The final set of extras have now become standard to any HKL disc. These include the typically poor Photo Gallery (another selection of stills with the Menu Artwork overlaid making your pause button a more appropriate option) and of course the HKL Promotional Trailer and the Original Theatrical Trailer. The latter runs at an overly long 5-minutes and features major spoilers so steer clear unless you have seen the film already, it is however worth a look as it includes some footage from the original In the Line of Duty movies featuring Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock (showing a LOT of leg!) in action. Strangely this Trailer is dubbed into English.
A fast and furious Martial Arts based action film In the Line of Duty is only slightly let down by the average plot and its eighties look. Fans of Donnie Yen owe it to themselves to check this film out as do general action fans alike and of course this HKL DVD is the best way to enjoy this film.