In the Line of Duty 4 (1989)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2005-09-16
Summary: A kickfest. Warning--contains several spoilers.
“We only sell drugs to make money”.

“No wonder there is so much crime here.”

Those two lines from “In the Line of Duty 4” sum up much of the non-fighting aspects of this movie. The first was uttered by Michael Wong who is an employee of the CIA tasked with raising money fund covert operations to overthrow governments in (one assumes) Central America. As events unfold his job involves protecting the identity of a higher ranking CIA officer who has killed a Seattle police officer and a number of drug dealers during a botched exchange of money for drugs. His current cover is as a captain with the Hong Kong police force, which is a natural since he is of Chinese ancestry and speaks flawless Cantonese—and probably Mandarin as well, depending on which track one selects while watching this movie.

He comes to a bad end, of course—although like all of the main characters he is almost impossible to kill and very difficult even to injure. After absorbing enough kicks, punches and beatings with furniture to fell ten lesser men (and this in the final battle only) he is kicked from a balcony. During his death dive he pulls down with him a huge American flag. I have no idea if this is the case, but I imagined that this scene would have been wildly popular when the movie was shown in Hong Kong cinemas. The residents of the still Crown Colony weren’t happy about becoming part of the PRC but that didn’t make them fans of the United States and its intelligence agencies.

Wong’s secret identity (secret only to the Hong Kong police) serves to wrap up several loose ends and explains a number of otherwise inexplicable actions by the thugs in his employ. The U.S. may also be a symbol on some level for the PRC—another huge country with a foreign ideology that will never understand Hong Kong. Since Wong is Chinese, as are all but a few of his goons, this may not be as far fetched as it seems at first glance.

The second line is said by the Hong Kong police commander to whom Captain Donny and Madam Yeung report. Every police officer in Hong Kong is looking for the two of them and are literally within a few steps of catching them when the commander realizes they are hiding in the trunk of a BMW. He covers for them, slamming the trunk and telling the cops around him that the trunk of the car had been left unlocked, one reason why crime was so rampant.

From the evidence of this movie and many others set in HK, though, the real reason for the crime wave that has apparently swept the city for about 25 years is that the police force there couldn’t catch a cold. Criminals have the run of the place since the cops are forever being made to look like fools. They arrest innocent people and let hard cases go free. Single officers attempt to arrest a heavily armed gang while reinforcements are sent to the wrong location. Their guns may as well be loaded with blanks since they never hit the bad guys they aim for—but they are mowed down like blades of wheat before a scythe when they are fired upon. So it isn’t very surprising that a CIA agent who has to cover the world can also hold down a job as a captain.

With one exception all the characters in “In the Line of Duty 4” are as unchanging as cardboard cut-outs. Yuen Yat Chow as Luk is the only sympathetic character and one that the audience might actually care about. He is a hard working longshoreman on the Seattle docks who, after seven years, has gotten a residence permit—a “green card”. Life might not be that great for him—he lives alone in a very odd house, apparently right on the docks, and has a deadbeat friend who gets him attacked by gangs who collect for the local loan shark. He is as about as unlucky as a man can be—after trying to help a dying policeman who is being pursued by vengeful CIA drug pushers, he is arrested while leaning over the his body holding the cop’s gun, something which he can’t explain away. Since everyone thinks he has an incriminating negative that the dead cop had, everyone is after him and no one hesitates for a moment when given a chance to kick the hell out of him. Even Luk’s mother in Hong Kong, who he sees for a moment after escaping across the Pacific in a freighter, thinks he is a criminal. In addition to being a whiz at repairing small motors, rewiring smashed police radios and making bombs from everyday objects Luk is also, of course, an expert at hand to hand combat.

The rest of the cast don’t have much to do other than kick and punch their way from the beginning of the movie to the end. Which is not a criticism—this is an action movie and there is plenty of action. Donnie Yen, not the most popular Hong Kong leading man, was a terrific kicker at this point of his career. He is an exciting fighter who you always hope will do something even more spectacular in this battle than in the last—generally your hopes are fulfilled. While not in the league of Kim Won Jin (“Women on the Run”) the Korean kicking machine, he get tremendous elevation and power into his kicks.

One way that Yeun Wo Ping tries to show that Donnie is not just a one-dimensional fighter is when he faces off with John Salvitti and then Michael Woods. Salvitti looks and acts crazy—his antics could be seen as satirizing some of the more outlandish kung-fu face-pulling and gesturing—but is a worth opponent. He is definitely ahead on points for the first part of the bout but then Donnie shows that he has learned what to expect and begins to land all he punches and kicks. The same thing occurs in the rooftop brawl with the fearsome Michael Woods. After being beaten to a pulp, Donnie starts making Woods miss and then lands some crunching blows of his own. Unfortunately Woods seems to be just as skilled as Donnie, just a fast and about twice as big. He is, however, unable to survive being thrown off a roof.

Cynthia Khan is fit, charismatic and beautiful. She can kick as well as almost any man and dispatches a number of them. Her best work, though, takes place on the roof of a speeding ambulance, where she kicks a ninja type on top of the head a few times. This movie being what it is, with people able to absorb enough punishment to drop a rhinoceros, the ninja guy is able to not only withstand these blows but also throw her off the top of the vehicle—she fights on and escapes with her life, although he does not. While her kicking is all but impeccable, Khan’s punches are often wide and looping, the kind of punch that leaves one open to be hit. She is so fast and fierce, though, and her opponents are skillful enough that they look good at normal speed. Her fight with a tall blonde caucasian woman, up and down some metal stairways and into an elevator shaft, is excellent.

Recommended for those who like action choreography and plenty of fighting
Reviewer Score: 6