Royal Warriors, also known as In The Line Of Duty, was at the time Michelle Yeoh’s second fully-fledged film role (after bit parts in two Sammo Hung films) ; the first one had been Yes Madam!, where she had more of a supporting role next to Cynthia Rothrock, but had one or two big fight scenes. So it’s safe to say Royal Warriors, where Yeoh has top-billing, was the real introduction to her talent(s). Directed by David Chung (who would direct Yeoh once again the following year in Magnificent Warriors), Royal Warriors is about a cop (Yeoh), an Japanese ex-cop (Hiroyuki Sanada) and an air security agent (Michael Wong) who together foil the hijacking of a plane, by killing the two persons who attempted it. As a result, two blood brothers of the killed hijackers swear revenge on the ‘heroic trio’. The plot is fairly simple, but the film does a number of things much better than a lot of Hong Kong action films of the time (like Tiger Cage 2, for instance).
First, some of the characters are more fleshed-out than usual. Hiroyuki Sanada for instance plays an ex-cop trying to reconnect with his forlorn wife, which leads to a couple of very simple but touching scenes between the two of them and their little child. But more shockingly, the villains are not simply maniacally laughing caricatures of the James Tien variety. While their actions are indeed “villainous”, you get a number of flashback scenes from the war they were all in, including the incident that led to their becoming sworn brothers. And second, the film never veers into retarded comedy, like so many of its peers. It stays hard-boiled and violent throughout, with the only comic-relief coming from Michael Wong’s obnoxious and desperate crush on Michelle Yeoh (as is sometimes the case in these films, the two characters have the same name as the person who plays them). It’s a cruel film, killing off sympathetic characters without mercy, which gives it a real tension. That does not however prevent the film from occasionally showing a zanier side, such as when the villain baits Yeoh by threatening to desecrate a loved-one’s grave…
Michelle Yeoh shows why she was at the time – and still is now – such a sensation. She’s only 24 here, and she really shines in the plentiful and very well choreographed (by Meng Hoi) actions scenes, where she displays both balletic grace and white-knuckle brutality. But when not in action she still is interesting, with a mix of levity and charisma that at the time already put her above the great majority of action stars. Here she forms a very nice trio with Michael Wong, who does play an obnoxious character, but at least one who ends realizing he is obnoxious in a few touching scenes. And last but not least, Hiroyuki Sanada, who makes for a great brooding hero and more than holds his own in the action scenes. It’s too bad it took 20 years for him to re-appear next to Michelle Yeoh in a film (2006’s Sunshine) : they make a terrific on-screen pairing.
Long Story Short: A tough, brutal, above-average action film, which gains a lot from showcasing the birth of a unique movie star: Michelle Yeoh.***1/2