Yes, Madam

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Asprin (Mang Hoi) and Strepsil (John Shum) have just robbed a corpse without knowing it. It’s also escaped them that, among their loot, is a valuable microfilm that the evil Mr. Tin (James Tien) will stop at nothing too recover. The misadventures of Asprin and Strepsil soon intersect with a police investigation headed up by the indomitable pairing of Inspector Ng (Michelle Yeoh) and Inspector Morris (Cynthia Rothrock) of Scotland Yard.

Yes, Madam (1985), a modest production from D&B Studios, launched the careers of Yeoh and Rothrock as leading ladies of the action film genre. Their dynamic fighting skills and stunt work makes them ideal heroes and juxtaposes the corruption and stupidity of the Hong Kong police force as depicted in the film. Even though the dramatic arcs in Yes, Madam rest exclusively with John Shum and Mang Hoi, it’s the high flying fighting skills of Rothrock and Yeoh that one remembers.

In this way Yes, Madam became a serious inroad within Hong Kong cinema for more action films starring women in rolls that would have been traditionally relegated to men. Director and action choreographer Corey Yuen would re-team with both Rothrock and Yeoh following the success of Yes, Madam, and thus establishing the conventions of the female lead action picture. In the following year’s Righting Wrongs (1986), Yuen casts Rothrock as a Police Inspector again who is oddly paired with her partner.

Yes, Madam, with it’s boiler-plate plotting and two-dimensional characters, isn’t just elevated by Yeoh and Rothrock’s casting; Yuen’s incomparable fight choreography does a lot to make the film a singular experience. Taking a page from Jackie Chan, Yuen realizes the crossovers between martial arts choreography and physical slapstick. In many instances the fights in Yes, Madam seem to channel Buster Keaton as much as they do Bruce Lee. The best example of Yuen’s work in this regard in the fight between Panadol (Tsui Hark) and Willie (Dick Wei) in the former’s apartment. The layout and set dressing of Panadol’s abode is intentionally designed to function like the set in the Arbuckle and Keaton short The Rough House (1917). Yuen then melds the sensibilities of martial arts and slapstick in a purely fanciful manner that pushes this synthesis further into the fantastic than anything Jackie Chan had done.

Corey Yuen’s films are all about physical kinetics. Characters are always navigating spaces in unconventional ways that force the camera into uncanny and unique positions which, in post-production, take on a form not dissimilar to Dziga Vertov’s experimental films. Just as Brian DePalma brought Eisenstein into the milieu of the post-modern American blockbuster then Yuen brings Keaton and Vertov into the Hong Kong action flick.