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The line of duty
Michelle Yeoh firmly established her star credentials with ROYAL WARRIORS [WONG GA JIN SI], a sister film to her 1985 career launcher Yes, Madam! and a blistering showcase for the talents of all involved. Genre fan Slarek delights in its many pleasures on this new Eureka Blu-ray release.

Every now and again I get a little thrown by an opening sequence because I chose not to read the synopsis that came with the review disc, something that happened again when I sat down to watch the 1986 Hong Kong martial arts movie, Royal Warriors [Wong ga jin si]. As a main street is cleared so that energetic youngsters can dance, sing, and play rock 'n' roll in colourful costumes as Michelle Yeoh dances about gleefully taking pictures on her instamatic camera, it struck me that this looked more like Shibuya in Tōkyō than the Hong Kong in which I had presumed the film was set. Then, in the very next scene, two gangsters burst into a small restaurant and demand that the two middle-aged proprietors hand over their son Taro, and all of the dialogue is conducted in Japanese. Well what do you know, it turns out that we're in Tōkyō after all. The couple's claim that Taro is out doesn't wash with the gangsters and they quickly locate him, fighting off his protesting parents and chasing him across town brandishing very sharp weapons, right through the parade that Michelle is photographing. She quickly floors one of them and pursues the other, and when his comrade catches up, she takes them both on and cheerfully beats them, seemingly enjoying every punch, kick and improvised weapon wallop that she delivers. When a beat policeman rides up on his bicycle and asks what's going on, Michelle flashes him the widest of smiles and identifies herself as Michelle Yip of the Royal Hong Kong Police. It's a really neat opening, drawing a distinct picture of the personality and considerable skills of our lead character, as well as the quality we can expect from the film's fight choreography, stunt work and staging. As it turns out, we haven't seen anything yet.

Things move on briskly from here. Boarding the same flight as the one Michelle is travelling home on is Chinese mob boss Tiger (Michael Chan Wai-man), who is being escorted in handcuffs back to Hong Kong by two detectives to stand trial for crimes so severe he may get the death penalty. As Michelle attempts to locate her seat, meanwhile, we're introduced to two other individuals who are set to play a key role in the unfolding drama. The first is Michael Wong (who is, at tad confusingly, played by the actor Michael Wong), a full-of-himself air marshal who starts hitting on Michelle almost from the moment he meets her. The other is Peter Yamamoto (Sanada Hiroyuki), a quiet and polite Japanese detective with a tough reputation who is taking a break from the Tōkyō police force to visit his wife and young child in Hong Kong.

Michael, peter and Michelle first meet

When the plane gets airborne, we're given a stark reminder of how drastically air travel has changed over the past 30 years when a close friend of Tiger's (played by Kam Hing-yin) masquerading as a business traveller takes a gun out of his suitcase, shoots and kills one of the detectives transporting Tiger and forces the other to uncuff him before killing him too. After handing Tiger a gun and a hand grenade, the friend then walks into the cockpit (try doing that nowadays) and hijacks the plane while Tiger keeps watch over the terrified passengers. When a frail and elderly woman asks permission to use the toilet, Tiger testily agrees, and when she struggles to get to her feet, he impatiently allows Michelle to assist her. Seconds after the two women hobble past him, however, the grenade he is holding is kicked smartly from his hand. What follows is five brilliant unbroken minutes of furiously choregraphed and performed close-quarters martial arts action, as Michelle, Michael and Peter team up to do battle with the desperate and highly skilled Tiger and his companion. Both criminals are ultimately (and in one case creatively) defeated, and Michelle, Michael and Peter land in Hong Kong as heroes, unaware that another comrade of Tiger's known as Raging Bull (Lam Wai) is already planning to avenge his friend's death.

Although not directly connected through its storyline or characters, Royal Warriors is a spiritual sister film to the previous year's career launcher, Yes, Madam! [Huang jia shi jie], in which Michelle Yeoh also played a hard-kicking Hong Kong Police detective. Hugely impressive though that film is – particularly the scenes in which Yeoh is teamed with Cynthia Rothrock – Royal Warriors ups the game in almost every respect. The storytelling here is tighter, the plot twists are darker, the violence is bloodier, and the combat is on another level entirely, being more protracted, faster paced, and more sublimely choreographed to camera. Director David Chung certainly deserves credit here, although expert opinion suggests the guiding hand in some scenes of second unit director Johnnie To, who was already directing for television by this point and was soon to become a feature director of considerable note.

Yeoh proves to be an even more charismatic lead here than in the previous film, and she's well-matched with the initially more subdued and later angrily driven Sanada as Tōkyō cop Peter Yamamoto, a nice (and commercially savvy) reversal of the Japanese Bad Guys trope of so many first wave martial arts movies. Michael Wong's flight marshal is a different story, his relentless pursuit of Michelle feeling a little creepy from the off and quickly getting into the troubling realm of a stalker, particularly when he ignores her polite brush-off and follows her home and blags his way into her apartment. And he just doesn't let up. It gets to the point where I was mentally urging Michelle to aim one of her more elegant kicks in the direction of his goolies to get him to back off. As it turns out, this was likely all intentional, and when an irritated Michelle finally tells Michael a few home truths, it genuinely seems to register, paving the way for the second of the film's take-no-prisoners story twists. And in a rarity for martial arts movies of the day, the bad guys are given a backstory – complete with flashbacks – to justify their loyalty to each other and their subsequent thirst for revenge.

Peter kicks head in the nightclub battle

When the action lets rip, Yeoh, Sanada, Wong and just about everyone they fight with are all on fire, giving rise to set-pieces that are often jaw-dropping in their energy and creativity. Staging that blistering airplane battle so early runs the risk of setting too high a bar for whatever is to follow, but that doesn't trouble director Chung and his hugely talented team of fight choreographers, stunt performers and actors. Thus we get a breathless and destructive car chase that dovetails into a building site battle that includes a brief but eye-widening close-quarters fight inside a bulldozer cab and one of the lead actors being completely buried under a mound of earth. An explosive gunfight in a neon lit nightclub results in the slaughter of what looks like half the club's patrons and ends with a brutal martial arts battle in which the actors and their stunt doubles hurl each other violently against walls, floors and counters. In another scene, one actor is dangled upside-down for real off of the roof of a tall office block, and a there's a slow motion fall from a considerable height that ends in a crash through a glass roof, a stunt that is worthy of classic era Jackie Chan. And then there's the climax, where all caution is seemingly thrown to the wind, with explosions, machine-gun fire, a bone-busting fight with an angry chainsaw-wielding villain, and a vehicle that Mike Leeder in his commentary assures us is realistic for the day, but that had me wide-eyed with disbelief on its first appearance and convinced that the filmmakers had simply lost their marbles.

As 80s Hong Kong martial arts action movies go, Royal Warriors is one of the best. It confirmed Michelle Yeoh as a genre star to be reckoned with, and teams her with – and pits her against – fighters of equal skill and screen presence. The set-pieces alone would make this a must-see, but the darker elements of the story, the absence of the goofier comedy scenes of Yes, Madam!, and the suggestion that the pursuit of revenge can trigger a potentially never-ending cycle all give the narrative more gravitas than the genre norm. An absolute blast for martial arts and action movie fans of all persuasions, it's no wonder that both commentaries on this disc kick off by describing the film as a genre classic.

sound and vision

Featuring a 1080p HD transfer from a new 2K restoration, the 1.85:1 image here looks consistently good, with well-defined detail that only softens just a whisper in a couple of scenes, and I'm willing to bet that was down to the location and lighting – even the human eye will struggle a bit in a neon-lit nightclub with a billowing smoke machine. Contrast is well balanced with beefy black levels but reasonable shadow detail, and colours are vividly rendered – the lighting in the nightclub is a prime example. Dust and damage have been all but eradicated, the picture sits solidly in frame with no hint of movement or jitter, and a fine film grain is visible.

Michael dangles for his life

There are four audio options, and I have to confess to not having had the time to make detailed comparisons, so am unable to testify as to the differences between the Cantonese Linear PCM 1.0 mono Theatrical Mix and Cantonese Linear PCM 1.0 mono Home Video Mix. Both have a fidelity common with martial arts cinema of the 70s and 80s, with dialogue and music lacking bass and depth, but always clear enough for those fluent in Cantonese.

The differences between the English Linear PCM 1.0 mono Classic Dub and the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround Home Video Dub are more pronounced, and while the dialogue is of a similar quality on both, the sound effects have been remixed for the 5.1 track and have a livelier feel, as well as some distinct frontal separation. As English dubs of such movies go, these are far from the worst, but while much of the dialogue has the same thrust on both tracks, the wording can often subtly change – "sky security" on the mono track becomes "air marshal" on the surround track, for example. Intermittently, however, the dialogue on the 5.1 track differs drastically from both the mono track and the subtitle translation of the Cantonese tracks. Consider this exchange between Michelle, Peter and Michael as Peter is about to depart for the airport.

Cantonese track
Michelle: "It's just a formality."
Peter: "I have to get that plane at 11 o'clock. I must return to Japan with my wife. I've made my decision."
Michael: (cheerfully) "Don't worry, no one will keep you if you want to stay longer."
English theatrical release mono track
Michelle: "What time does your plane leave?"
Peter: "We take off at 11 o'clock. It'll be my daughter's first flight. She'll get a kick out of it."
Michael: (cheerfully) "Have a good flight. And let us know how good the sky security is. I may have to come over there and straighten them out. Ha ha."
English home video release surround track
Michelle: "So, you've decided."
Peter: "Yeah, my wife doesn't like the job. She wants me to quit. I won't be back."
Michael: (cheerfully) "Don't worry! We don't want you back! We're going away for a hot weekend."

As noted above, there are optional English subtitles that kick on automatically when either of the Cantonese tracks are selected.

special features

Audio Commentary by Frank Djeng
Martial arts movie expert Frank Djeng brings his encyclopaedic knowledge of Hong Kong cinema to a film he clearly holds in very high regard, providing background details on seemingly everyone who has even a single line of dialogue, and even a couple who don't. He confirms that the film was post-dubbed (standard for Hong Kong action movies of the day) and that the Chinese-American Michael Wong delivered most of his lines in English because his Cantonese wasn't that good, while Sanada Hiroyuki delivered his in Japanese for the same reason. The three-way conversations between these two and Michelle Yeoh must have been a barrel of fun. Djeng usefully explains why the name Yamamoto is pronounced completely different in the film, and comments on the cinematography, the music and the connections to Yes, Madam!. He also clarifies some of the cultural aspects for non-Chinese viewers, and has a few things to say about Michael's relentless pursuit of Michelle – "Meanwhile, Michael continues to act like a jerk," he says at one point.

Michelle lands a killer blow

Audio Commentary by Mike Leeder and Arne Venema
The always engaging duo of 'Big Mike' Leeder and Arne Venema again bring their personal experiences of years of living and working in Hong Kong to this engaging second commentary. Enthusiastic comments on Michelle Yeoh's clothing choices and cuteness aside, the two men deliver an enjoyable mix of factual detail and personal anecdotes and recollections, also revealing that the film had a surprising seven cinematographers (only two of whom are credited on IMDb) and a whole string of assistant and second unit directors, all of whom they are able to name. They praise Sanada for his understanding of the Hong Kong film industry approach to staging action, remark that the film's brotherhood of villains has a John Woo feel and that the plotting sometimes has the tone of a Japanese yakuza movie, and subtly suggest that while he's okay here, Michael Wong probably isn't the greatest of actors. There is some crossover with Frank Djeng's commentary – on the actors, the floating restaurant location, car stunt arranger Blackie Ko Shou-liang, the local geography – but both commentaries have different things to say on each subject, so duplication is not an issue.

A Conversation with John Sham (2018 Far East Film Festival) (33:26)
Affable producer and occasional actor (he has a prominent supporting role in Yes, Madam!) John Sham relates in perfect English how he first entered the film industry, and talks about several of the films he has produced and appeared in. He also recalls discovering Michelle Yeoh, signing her up, having her trained in martial arts (her background was in ballet), and giving her the English name of Michelle.

Royal Warriors and Yes, Madam! Locations (10:22)
Arne Venema and Mike Leeder take us on a tour of some of the locations in which scenes from Royal Warriors and Yes, Madam! were shot in a breezy featurette that was also directed, edited and even scored by Venema.

Hong Kong Theatrical Trailer (4:39)
Some whacking great spoilers in this action and conflict-driven Hong Kong trailer, which also includes a couple of behind-the-scenes shots. Definitely don't watch before seeing the film for the first time.

Also included is a 24 page Booklet, the bulk of which is made up of an insightful essay on the film critic, historian and filmmaker James Oliver. A range of poster artwork and promotional stills have also been included.


Another belting martial arts Blu-ray release from Eureka and an essential companion film to the already released Yes, Madam!, a disc I criminally failed to cover but which nonetheless gets my heartiest recommendation. If you're a fan of the genre, then get this disc for its blistering action, its darkly toned plot, its outrageous climax, the fine restoration and transfer, two excellent commentaries, and more, and while you're at pick up the earlier disc too. Enthusiastically recommended.

Royal Warriors Blu-ray cover
Royal Warriors
[Wong ga jin si]

Hong Kong 1986
96 mins
directed by
David Chung
produced by
John Sham
written by
Tsang Kan-cheung (as Sammy Khan)
Ma Chun Wah
Derek Wan (as Man Kit Wan)
Cheung Kwok-kuen
Romeo Díaz
art direction
Dominique Lo
Oliver Wong
Michelle Yeoh (as Michelle Khan)
Michael Wong
Sanada Hiroyuki
Ying Bai

disc details
region B
LPCM 1.0 mono
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
special features
Audio Commentary by Frank Djeng
Audio Commentary by Mike Leeder and Arne Venema
A Conversation with John Sham (2018 Far East Film Festival)
Royal Warriors and Yes, Madam! Locations featurette
Hong Kong Theatrical Trailer

Eureka Entertainment
release date
23 January 2023
review posted
25 January 2023

See all of Slarek's reviews