Royal Warriors [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - 88 Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (4th June 2024).
The Film

Returning from a vacation in Japan, Hong Kong police officer Michelle Yip (Tomorrow Never Dies's Michelle Yeoh) helps air marshal Michael Wong (City Hunter's Michael Wong) and Japanese cop Yamamoto (Message from Space's Hiroyuki Sanada) foil the attempt of Crazy Chicken (A Better Tomorrow's Kam Hing-Yin) to free his buddy Tiger (Legacy of Rage's Michael Chan Wai-Man) who is being escorted back to Hong Kong for trial. The resulting deaths of Tiger and Crazy Chicken puts the trio in the cross hairs of vengeful partner Raging Bull (Long Arm of the Law's Lam Wai) who attempts assassinations on all three. When Yamamoto's wife Yukiko (Niwa Reiko) and daughter Yuko are the victims of a car bombing, Yamamoto turns from justice to revenge. While Michael tries to keep Michelle and himself out of danger, Michelle may have to risk her career to keep Yamamoto from getting himself killed and bring Raging Bull (and his unknown associate) to justice.

Although shot and released in Hong Kong after Yes Madam, Royal Warriors' international handling by German world sales agent Atlas International under the title "In the Line of Duty" and Yes Madam in some territories as "In the Line of Duty II" has lead to the second film being considered the first (as in this boxed set). While all four films are self-contained with little continuity, much of the light comedy that was organic to Yes Madam is absent here apart from Yeoh fighting off some Japanese gangsters in the opening teaser and the tonal evolution from the brutal here to the almost sadistic In the Line of Duty III is evident. While there is a certain cynicism in the film's setting up of sentimental romantic and familial relationships as motivation for revenge when love interests and relatives are brutally murdered, the film's action set-pieces are exhilarating from the airplane hijack sequence to the nightclub shootout that rivals In the Line of Duty III's fashion show in the slaughter of innocent bystanders, and the building site finale where Yeoh goes Jackie Chan with a bulldozer on a shack on stilts and the villains truly earn their fates. Yeoh acquits herself well dramatically and physically not an experienced martial artist at the time, her skills as a former dancer are put to good use in fights that utilize a lot of kicks and neck-twisting ankles while Sanada does the brooding, and Wong is required to be slightly obnoxious as the Casanova character who is cautious rather than craven and more honorable and selfless than the other "Michael Wong" he would play in In the Line of Duty IV. Like Yes Madam, the film is shot-through with locally-recognizable cameos from Hong Kong action cinema performers including Eddie Maher (Magic Crystal) as a weapons dealer and Kenneth Tsang (The Replacement Killers) as yet another police captain as well as Japanese network TVB stars (some just for a few seconds onscreen and many not known to many viewers stateside). The majority of cinematographer-turned-director David Chung's directorial efforts were from this period, and he would return to working only as a cinematographer shortly after, winning Hong Kong Film Awards "Best Cinematography" prizes for both Painted Faces and Once Upon a Time in China.
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Video

Unreleased theatrically in the United States, Royal Warriors was most accessible stateside as a Hong Kong laserdisc from a print with bilingual English subtitles until Tai Seng put out an American laserdisc in 1998 with both burnt-in English subtitles and Cantonese dialogue on the digital tracks and the English dub on the analog tracks. Their subsequent DVD was a direct port of the non-anamorphic Universe Hong Kong DVD edition which dropped the English track in favor of Cantonese and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks and optional subtitles. That edition was subsequently supplanted through Twentieth-Century-Fox's deal with Fortune Star with an anamorphic DVD featuring Cantonese audio (in DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1) and the English dub. We do not know whether the 2011 Hong Kong Blu-ray or the 2022 English-friendly German Blu-ray are some of Fortune Star's notorious early HD upscapes but a 2K restoration was utilized earlier this year for Eureka's British Blu-ray and has also been used for 88 Films' 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray previously issued as part of the In The Line Of Duty: I-IV set under review here. We were not able to review the UK edition, but 88's edition is not really a stunner. It is clean, and fine detail is good for the most part apart from some cutways and inserts during the action as well as a few exteriors of the plane in the air that are entirely missing from the negative but the grading is not as bright as the earlier transfers (perhaps realistically so) and the more saturated colors pop and look natural for the most part but skin tones seem to vary in different scenes (and not just under the neons of the nightclub scene) from slightly rosy to various shades of gray and light brown.
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Audio

The film can be viewed with a choice of four soundtracks: the original Cantonese mono dub in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, an alternate Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono home video mix with some effects and music alterations, the original export English dub in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, as well as Fortune Star's DVD-era English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. Either of the original mono dubs are recommended given that all three of the leads are dubbed Yeoh at the time only spoke Mandarin, Wong only spoke English, and Sanada Japanese while the foley effects occasionally have a more presence than the synth score which recycles cues from the first film and would be heard again is subsequent entries (sometimes is more the cutting than the impacts that excite the viewer). The 5.1 track gives the score and original effects track a bit of breathing room while the sort of added overlaid effects heard in some 5.1 "remixes' is not as apparent here. Optional English subtitles are available for the Cantonese track while a second track translating text only is enabled with the English dubs.
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Extras

The U.K. edition of Royal Warriors featured commentary tracks by the former Tai Seng employee/current Hong Kong Film Festival programmer Frank Djeng and action cinema experts Mike Leeder & Arne Venema, while the 88 release features a new audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng the disagreement over which film is first reflected in a passing remark about him already recording a new track for Yes Madam first in which he notes that the film was a hit but that its local box office performance did not make back its budget (that was done by foreign sales), the limited actual Japanese location shooting, the brutal tone of the film, Yeoh and her co-stars as well as several of the TVB cameos, reveals the input of then little-known Johnnie To (Election) as second unit director and actor Philip Chan (Hard Boiled) on third unit, Cantonese and Japanese word play in the script, actor/stuntman Mang Hoi (who would have a principal role in Yes Madam) behind the film's choreography, and an onscreen appearance by car stunt arranger Blackie Ko (Armour of God).

The Atlas International export English In the Line of Duty Title Sequence (2:57) is included along with the END card and exit music, as well as the Missing Airplane Scene Inserts (0:29) in extremely poor upscaled standard definition the actually detract by how obvious they are as stock footage and the Hong Kong theatrical trailer (4:38) and English theatrical trailer (3:49).
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Overall

Much of the light comedy that was organic to Yes Madam is absent Royal Warriors and the tonal evolution moves from brutal to sadistic.

 


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