In the Line of Duty is an umbrella title given to a series of Hong Kong-produced, woman-led crime / martial arts films released between 1985 and 1995. Although the same lead actresses play characters with similar personalities and backstories, as well as repeated names, between several of the films, they are not directly connected.

If you enjoy Michelle Yeoh’s role as Senior Inspector Ng in Yes, Madam! (aka In the Line of Duty I), for instance, don’t expect to dive deeper into her character in Royal Warriors (aka In the Line of Duty II), where she plays Michelle Yip, an entirely different person. And don’t think too hard about Inspector Yeung Lai-Ching (Cynthia Khan), the main character of both In the Line of Duty III and In the Line of Duty IV. She may seem like the same person each time, but there’s no actual relation. This is a loosely connected anthology built after the fact; it wasn’t until In the Line of Duty III that either Madam or Warriors were retroactively made part of the “series” for marketing purposes.

So don’t look into this new, must-own 88 Films release if you expect an epic tale told over four parts. That’s not the case. Instead, pick it up if you’re looking for a handful of generally awesome martial arts films shot at the start of several notable Hong Kong action careers, featuring wild-ass stunts that look as potentially deadly as they likely were. Although each movie suffers from overly convoluted plotting found in a lot of that era’s Hong Kong action cinema, it hardly matters: Each film features at least one standout sequence, and you’re not watching these for the plots, right?

Yes, Madam! (1985)

Yes, Madam! introduced the action world to Michelle Yeoh (at the time known as Michelle Khan) as Senior Inspector Ng, a policewoman seeking a microfiche that could bring down a criminal businessman. She teams up with American cop Carrie Morris (Cynthia Rothrock, who may actually be having more fun during her fights than the lead). Unfortunately, the film slows down in the middle act to focus on a pair of thieves, Asprin (Mang Hoi) and Strepsil (John Shum), but it eventually explodes into a ferocious action finale filled with shattered glass, flips and plummets from great heights. Like the martial arts films that buttered the Hong Kong film industry’s bread during its 1970s heyday, Yes, Madam! concludes on a sudden moment of shocking moral clarity that makes the less exciting moments feel worthwhile in hindsight. Although it’s probably my third-favorite in the set, it’s historically the most essential of the four.

Special Features

  • Export version (HD; 1:27:36) with Cantonese original theatrical mix / home video mix in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
  • Classic English dub in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono and new English dub in Dolby Digital 5.1
  • An introduction by Rothrock
  • Audio commentary by Hong Kong film expert Frank Djeng
  • Select-scene commentary by Rothrock and Djeng
  • A Team Player — Rothrock on Yes, Madam!
  • Ladies First — Hoi on Yes, Madam!
  • Interview with Yeoh
  • Battling Babes featurette
  • Hong Kong trailer

Royal Warriors (1986)

Royal Warriors features bigger action and a broader cast but still follows a similar pattern: Mobsters and their inside men in the Hong Kong Royal Police must be stopped by a team of agents drawn into their world of corruption and avarice. Yeoh returns — this time as Michelle Yip, an everyday police officer who teams up with Interpol agent Peter Yamamoto (a young and extremely dashing Hiroyuki Sanada) and airport security guard Michael Wong (Michael Wong) to foil the villains. The finale goes a little larger than I’d hoped but the film is a noteworthy display of its lead trio’s respective action chops.

Special Features

  • Cantonese theatrical and alternate mixes in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
  • Classic English dub mixes in Dolby Digital 2.0 and new English dub mix in Dolby Digital 5.1.
  • Audio commentary by Djeng
  • An assembly of missing inserts from the film’s plane sequence, including some unconvincing miniatures.
  • Cantonese and English trailers
  • English In the Line of Duty title sequence

In the Line of Duty III (1988)

In the Line of Duty III is the weakest of this set. Cynthia Khan stars as Rachel Yeung, a Hong Kong police officer responsible for foiling Japanese nationalists seeking to make an arms deal in her city. The plot gets more convoluted from there. There are a few really good action beats, but for the most part, I found this one to be fairly forgettable — especially compared to its far superior sequel.

Special Features

  • Cantonese and English tracks in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono.
  • Audio commentary by Djeng and Hong Kong film expert Michael Worth
  • Interview with actor John Sham by cinematographer / journalist Frédéric Ambroisine
  • Hong Kong and English trailers
  • English credits

In the Line of Duty IV (1989)

In the Line of Duty IV once again stars Cynthia Khan, this time playing a police inspector named Yeung Lai-Ching. This time around, she’s drawn into an international drama along with an American cop, Donny Yan (Donnie Yen), to help hunt down a rogue witness to a conspiracy involving corrupt cops and the CIA. It’s utterly ridiculous, of course, but it rarely slows down. Legendary martial arts choreographer and director Yuen Woo-ping helmed this one and delivers the goods — even if it means sidelining Khan’s role in favor of his protégé, the up-and-coming Yen. It’s not that Khan gets nothing to do, but, well, Yen gets more. Much more. Of the four films included in 88 Films’ new set, this is close to my favorite and likely to be the one I most frequently rewatch.

Special Features

  • Hong Kong cut featuring Cantonese or English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
  • Export version (HD; 1:35:38) with English dub in Dolby Digital 2.0
  • Audio commentary with Djeng and Worth
  • Archive commentary with Wong and Hong Kong film expert Stefan Hammond
  • Archive interview with Yen
  • Hong Kong and English trailers

The Package

This new 88 Films release features each film packaged in its own Blu-ray case — by far my preferred method for boxsets such as this (thank god it’s not a fold-out booklet). Each is adorned by the new artwork by Sean Longmore, which is also included on two double-sided posters. The individual cases are packaged in a sturdy hard slipcase that looks great on the shelf. Finally, a perfect-bound booklet is included. It contains three interviews, the most interesting of which features Michael Woods, the large, Black martial artist who squares off with Yen at the end of In the Line of Duty IV. He sparred with Yen in a few other films during this era — Tiger Cage and Tiger Cage II being the standouts — and he has a lot of insight into the making of martial arts films, his utility as a performer at the time and Yen’s growth as a person and a movie star over the years.

For fans of Hong Kong action cinema, this new release is a great sampling of some of this era’s best stars, directors and setpieces. There isn’t a dud among them. Highly recommended.