Middle Man (1990)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2006-04-25
“In the Line of Duty 5” fails only in comparison with its more illustrious (or at least more entertaining) predecessors. As a late entry during the girls with guns epoch it is a very decent action movie that opens with a memorable action scene, includes an exciting boat chase in the crowded HK harbor and enough gunplay to please the lead bullet manufacturers association. The last fight, between Cynthia Khan and a tough blonde—Cynthia faces off against a number of vicious gweilos—features swords, shards of glass and some terrific punching and kicking. There are some extremely incompetent white CIA guys who are unable to execute a very simple sting operation, letting the target escape with the bait money and getting several of their agents killed. It has a heroic and attractive female police inspector, a bunch of unmemorable secondary characters who clutter up the landscape and a really evil bad guy who steals weapons plans from the Americans and is much more casual in executing traitorous henchman than was, for example, Robert De Niro in “The Untouchables” or Bob Hoskins in “The Long Good Friday”.

ITLOD 5 starts with a bang—Cynthia driving feet first through a car windshield to stop a fleeing killer is a famous scene but her confrontation in a narrow alleyway with the same guy less than a minute later is quite an combination of skill and athleticism—both Cynthia and her opponent—camera work and fight choreography. First she is chasing him and decides to use a handy pipe to vault upwards and run along the wall for a few steps, kicking him as she comes down. She also escapes his attacks by stretching between the enclosing walls, holding herself rigid with by bracing her hands and feet on opposite walls and then “walking” up and back down. But the best stunt of this wonderful series of stunts is when Cynthia pins her opponent’s foot against the wall with one of hers, a new and very effective way to block a kick. And in case one missed it, they did it again a few times during the same sequence.

What is lacking is any sense of plot—the main storyline, involving the General and the CIA starts promisingly but loses energy when David, Cynthia’s cousin appears. He is a Marine buck sergeant who likes to smoke pot, a vice from which Cynthia must save him. The evils of drug use are shown in stark (and ridiculous) detail when a small drug deal goes wrong and results in the death of the cousin’s shipboard roommate, a CIA agent. The subplot further thickens and slows to a glacial pace when the cousin falls in love with May, a bar girl with a heart of gold and a head of stone. Extra credit to Alvina Kong for doing as good a job as possible with this thankless role.

What started promisingly becomes a chaotic mess with the CIA aided by the Hong Kong police, the General’s men and possibly a third group chasing Cynthia and David. May dies in a hail of bullets—they might be the only well aimed shots in the entire movie--David gets revenge be driving a huge truck over the car in which the killer is fleeing and everyone shoots at everyone else. One can compare the beginning of the film, with Cynthia single-handedly (or single-footedly) taking on an assassin fleeing in a car with this bloated ante-penultimate scene in which essentially the same action takes place but involves trucks, cranes and flaming freight containers.

Cynthia utters an unintentionally funny line (at least as translated in the subtitles) a few times when she says that David is innocent “even if he did kill the CIA”, not a good defense for an active duty non-commissioned officer.

Cynthia Khan is very poorly served by the wardrobe department. She is invariably dressed in badly fitting square cut pantsuits that hang from her frame. She looked a lot better in ITLOD 3 when, dressed in the cinematic version of the full regalia of a Hong Kong policewoman she ripped the seams of her hobble skirt up to her hips so she could deliver a thunderous kick to a fleeing robber. She does plenty of kicking in this movie but doesn’t look half as good when doing so.

Cynthia is very fit, exudes athleticism and looks as if she could kick a platoon of villains to death before breakfast. She is a decent actress—although isn’t given much to do in the acting department here—but lacks a certain charisma or spark or something that other female action icons of that period had.

Recommended mainly for several action scenes.

Reviewer Score: 6