The second of three urban action thrillers Yuen Woo-Ping and Donnie Yen collaborated on as director and star, In The Line Of Duty 4 is also, you guessed it, the fourth installment in a franchise that only has vague thematic continuity between its installments. The first two In The Line Of Duty films starred Michelle Yeoh and are also known as Yes Madam! and Royal Warriors. For the third film, Yeoh pulled out and was replaced with Cynthia Khan, who introduced the character of Rachel Yeung, which she reprises in this fourth film.
Cynthia Khan emerged as a replacement for Michelle Yeoh in the series and in Hong Kong cinema in general, after Yeoh went on an early and temporary retirement at the end of the eighties. She is just as beautiful and has the same tomboyish style as eighties Michelle Yeoh, but the difference is she is often replaced with an obvious stunt double in the trickier action scenes. Still, she is a charismatic and charming presence, and it’s a pity she vanished from the mainstream in the mid-nineties. Here she is paired with Donnie Yen (then at the beginning of his career and still a protégé of director Yuen Woo-Ping) and they play two cops investigating a drug-trafficking network with possibles international ties. They wind up having to take care of an innocent dock worker (Yuen Yat Chor) who witnessed a murder that is pivotal to the case, and questioning the loyalty of colleague Wong (Michael Wong), who might be playing both side.
Though the plot is often secondary and disposable in those eighties Hong Kong action thrillers, In The Line Of Duty 4 retains a sense of logic and manages to remain interesting on a narrative level, which immediately sets it above the similar and inferior Tiger Cage 2 (with which it shares the trio of Yuen Woo-Ping, Donnie Yen and Cynthia Khan, plus supporting roles/fighters Michael Woods and John Salvitti). It also wins points on not suqandering its runtime and atmosphere on annoying comedic interludes, remaining a fairly tough and brutal film trough and through. In the end however, even if the plot is serviceable and the tone is uniform, such a film lives or dies by its action scenes, and In The Line Of Duty 4‘s barrage of chases and fights does not disappoint.
As said before Cynthia Khan is often obviously stunt doubled, but that doesn’t detract from the fact she’s a worthy screen fighter. Still, as expected, the star of the show when the action kicks up is young Donnie Yen. In one of his first major roles, Yen doesn’t seem really at ease with the dialogues, but is impressive anytime he is thrown in the action. The speed and precision of his moves in fights that don’t seem sped-up, or at least much less obviously than elsewhere at the time, are a thing of beauty. His mano-a-mano against the hulking-yet-agile Michael Woods is marvel to look at, while the bike dogfight against John Salvitti is a gem of dare-devil stunt work. This was Yuen Yat-Chor last film, and watching this one wishes he’d gone on with movies, as he provides the film with a heart, as the innocent worker in over his head and trying to take care of his mother.
Long Story Short : A combination of serviceable storytelling, a consistent tone, unexpected heart and above all impressive fights, makes In The Line Of Duty 4 stand alongside Royal Warriors as one of the finest action films to come from the D&B film company. ***1/2