IN THE LINE OF DUTY 5 : MIDDLE MAN (1990) review

Some say the In The Line Of Duty franchise started its decline with this fifth installment, directed by Cha Chuen Yee in 1990, a time when the Girls With Guns genre was starting to recede to alternative Asian film industries like Taiwan or the Philippines. It’s true that while it has been the common lot of the films of this franchise to have mostly disposable plots, the story in In The Line Of Duty 5 is particularly uninspiring and trite. It involves things such as the CIA, a marine on leave and drug dealers, all intertwined in the least interesting ways possible. At the center of these wholly uninteresting goings-on is, again, the endearing Cynthia Khan, who it must be said got more and more credible as an ass-kicker with each installment.

The film opens with one hell of an action scene: it starts as a parking shootout, evolves into an alley fight, before bursting into a motorway chase. Cha Chuen Yee may not be as illustrious a director as those who preceded him in the franchise (including Corey Yuen, Arthur Wong and Yuen Woo-Ping), but he knows perfectly how to stage action, and the first five minutes of the film are simply impressive. After that the dull plot is set in motion, and leads to many generic scenes of reunions, betrayals, set-ups and all that, but still manages to throw in a terrific action scene every ten minutes.

It is the great paradox of those late-eighties and early-nineties HK actioners produced by the D & B film company (that also includes the Tiger Cage and Black Cat franchises, for instance) that their plotting and overall production values are on a par with a mediocre American TV movie, but their action scenes can humiliate even the biggest Hollywood blockbusters, not necessarily in terms of scale, but rather in terms of staging, pacing and and overall energy. In The Line Of Duty 5 is no exception and stands toe-to-toe with the best installments of the franchise in the action stakes. Plus, it doesn’t waste any time in unnecessary comic relief, single-mindedly (and thus blissfully) racing from boat chase to swordfight, all masterfully designed by Chris Lee (from the Jackie Chan Stunt Team).

Where it doesn’t compare however, is in its cast. Cynthia Khan is fine as always is the lead role, but the previous films all had strong presences, formidable figures to boost the film’s dynamic. Royal Warriors (In The Line Of Duty 2) had Hiroyuki Sanada in addition to Michelle Yeoh ; In The Line Of Duty 3 had the smouldering Michiko Nishiwaki as a villain ; and In The Line Of Duty 4 had Donnie Yen and Yuen Yat Chor to assist Cynthia Khan. Here, the villains are completely interchangeable (though there is champion kickboxer Billy Chow as a henchman), and Khan is saddled with the obnoxious and whiny David Wu as her marine cousin getting framed. Which means in the big picture of the In The Line Of Duty franchise, this n°5 doesn’t stand out that much. On its own merits, it’s nevertheless a good action film.

Long Story Short: Terrific action scenes that are on a par with the franchise’s best are peppered through a plot that has never been so mundane. **1/2

 

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