In the Line of Duty 4: The Witness (1989) Movie Review

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Yuen Woo-ping’s “In the Line of Duty 4: Witness” starts off in Seattle, where Hong Kong detective Yeung (Cynthia Khan) arrives to work with the local PD to take down some drug smugglers. Meanwhile, dockworker Luk (Sunny Yuen) has the bad luck to witness the murder of a Seattle PD detective at the hands of rogue CIA-backed drug dealers. But before the detective joins his ancestors, he hands off a roll of incriminating film to Luk, who promptly loses it while running from the drug dealers. No matter. He’s taken into custody and incurs the wrath of hotheaded (re: total jerk) cop Donny (Donnie Yen — see, that’s clever), the dead man’s partner. Using the old “beat up the abusive cop and take his uniform trick,” Luk escapes police custody and flees to Hong Kong with Donny and Yeung on his trail. Can you stand the excitement and tension? Well, can you?

Donnie Yen never became a box-office superstar on the level of Jet Li or Jackie Chan, but make no mistake about it, there’s nothing better than watching him fight onscreen. Win or lose, he has ways of moving and fighting that is jaw-dropping to watch and he’s the best performer — not the best stuntman (Jackie Chan) or toughest real-life fighting machine (Bruce Lee) — to have worked in marital arts movies outside of maybe Jet Li, and that’s just too close to call. “In the Line of Duty IV: The Witness” is not as polished as Donnie Yen’s later collaborations with director Yuen Woo-ping (who had something to do with “The Matrix” and “Kill Bill”) but it is a perfect example of why Donnie inspires the fanbase that he has.

The “In the Line of Duty” series was part of a wave of kung-fu police flicks inspired by Jackie Chan’s “Police Story,” with an off-shoot being the female kung-fu police movies where Cynthia Rothrock and Michelle Khan (the original screen name of Michelle Yeoh) became big name stars. Cynthia Khan, the star of “In the Line of Duty 4″, was actually a dancer/beauty queen groomed to take took over the lead with “In the Line of Duty III” after Michelle Yeoh left the series, with Cynthia’s stage name specifically tailored to cash in on the Michelle/Cynthia connection. The movies in the series were sequels in name only, and were pretty weak except for number 1, also known “Royal Warriors.”

The story for “The Witness” is barely there, the script is full of holes and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Even for a Hong Kong action movie, the acting is some pretty weak tea and I was just waiting for a shot where you saw a hand pulling on the string on Cynthia Khan’s back. As for Donnie, he seems to be having a grand old time being a total tool throughout the movie. He’s a short-tempered alpha male who bullies poor Luk around, is dangerously trigger happy (that is, when he remembers to bring a gun), and gives Yeung a good amount of chauvinistic and macho attitude.

The movie’s weaknesses as a whole serves to better emphasize the quality of the action segments, especially since there’s one about every ten minutes. Some of the action scenes are vehicular chases (including an improbably funny bike chase where characters joust with road crew tools) and badly staged shootouts (bang-bang and five guys drop dead) but the gravy are the longer fights featuring Cynthia Khan’s extremely obvious stunt double (the character loses her breasts and grows a whole head taller) and our man Donnie.

If people fought like they do in “The Witness” in real-life, fights would last no more than ten second, considering the sheer amount of punishment the fighters inflict on each other. The fights are meant to be brutal and fast, with a noticeable absence of traditional kung-fu styles, wirework or the prop comedy you’d see in a Jet or Jackie movie. The present-day setting of “The Witness” also allowed Yuen Woo-ping and Donnie to bring in non-Asian stuntmen and fighters, and these men are without a doubt Donnie’s true co-stars in the film.

First and foremost is Michael Woods, billed throughout his Hong Kong career simply as “black thug/henchman.” Woods duels with Donnie at the movie’s finale and it’s an amazing thing to watch. Here’s this muscle bound guy in a wife beater, just a little taller than Donnie but twice as wide, and he’s keeping up with the martial arts moves beat for beat. Where you’d expect someone his size to lumber and crush, Woods is light as air on his feet and throwing out spin kicks and grapples. Woods had previously fought Donnie onscreen in Yuen Woo-ping’s “Tiger Cage” and would do so again in “Tiger Cage 2″.

Stuntman John Salvitti also appeared in “Tiger Cage 2″, where he did some “Highlander”-style sword fighting with Donnie. In “The Witness,” Salvitti does hands down the funniest white-boy kung-fu routine ever during a mid-film duel. Again, the fight action is brutal and quick, but it’s the funniest thing you’ll ever see without at once being slapstick.

At the end of the day, as rockin’ as the action in the movie is, nothing else about it will really stick with you. After all, this is an 80’s Hong Kong action movie, and movies of that time period usually served as nothing more than action scene delivery devices. If a coherent and worthwhile plot emerged, it was half-luck as much as skill on the part of the filmmakers. Fortunately for “In the Line of Duty IV,” it had the benefit of Misters Yen and Yuen on both sides of the camera, and the viewer is better off for it.

Woo-ping Yuen (director) / Anthony Wong Chau-Sang (screenplay)
CAST: Cynthia Khan …. Madam Yeung
Donnie Yen …. Donny
Michael Wong …. Michael Wong
Yat Chor Yuen …. Luk Wan-Ting


Buy In the Line of Duty 4: The Witness on DVD

Author: Erick Kwon

  • Sley

    Its one of the best action film ive watched.. Full of martial art fightings.. I love Cynthia Khan she is real terrific. Hope more of such films can be released

  • Sley

    Its one of the best action film ive watched.. Full of martial art fightings.. I love Cynthia Khan she is real terrific. Hope more of such films can be released

  • Michael Rain

    In The Line of Duty 4

    Written by Woo Ping, Directed by Woo Ping
    Review by Michael Rain

    When people told me the biggest gang in New York was the NYPD, I laughed. When they said that there is never a cop around when you need one, I kind of smirked. When they asked, “Why are all cops Irish?” I didn’t understand… cops aren’t Irish? They’re Chinese, right?

    At least, they all are in ILOD4.

    We start our story in what appears to be Seattle, WA. Here we find every step of a drug deal being carefully watched by the police, including Donnie Yen and (sigh!) Cynthia Khan. (sigh!)
    Each member of the drug party then gets tailed as they leave the mall where the actual deal is going down.

    Cythia Khan (sigh) will play the compassionate Inspector Yeung. Pausing here, we can’t help but notice that Inspector Yeung is a little too yeung to be an Inspector… but she’s way too cute and determined to ignore, and way to street wise and combative to dismiss… hence she is an inspector.
    Donnie Yen will play as the insensitive, no nonsense, all bad and ugly cop who is nothing short of mindless dedication to killing the bad guys. But that’s ok, ‘cause in real life, He’s kind of like that.

    Now, this is not your basic kung-fu flick. No, no, no. This is more like your average Roll playing Game from Squaresoft. In fact, I half-way expected to find some guy named ‘Sid’ put in here, somewhere’s just to make it complete.
    Yes, there is lots of fighting. Lots of people getting whacked over the head with gigantic wrenches, probably stolen from the Titanic’s shipyard. Immediately afterward, of course, they simply ‘rub off’ the incredible pain and go back in for more! Gotta love that dedication, there, yknow? I mean, how many of you would take a crowbar hit in the temple and back, so hard that it flips you completely and you land on your back… and you simply stand back up in immense pain, shake it off, and then go back in for fighting. Donnie Yen gets shot in the shoulder, and yet, he faces some black-scorpion wacko ninja without so much as flinching! Dedication is definitely a fine character trait for any plain-clothes detective or arch-rival villain.

    Without going into the play-by-play script of the movie, let me sum up by stating that the basic premise of the movie is that the American CIA is selling drugs to small-time operators from Hong Kong in exchange for money to fund the much-feared Contra forces in Vietnam.
    First of all, before you start throwing tomatoes at the movie review, let me ask one simple question.
    Have we, or have we not, made tons and tons of movies with the Chinese or Japs as bad guys?!? The thirties and forties were filled with movies like that… as well as the fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties and nineties. Admit it, we did. So what if our movies were probably more truthful… I’m sure they were rather upset at how they were type-cast. Understand how they must have felt.
    Every oriental was stereotyped:
    a. Bucked Teeth.
    b. Martial Arts Killing Machines
    c. Sneaky and untrustworthy.
    (how many movies have you seen where it’s the Jap who is only ‘playing dead’ until the unsuspecting American GI has walked past with his guard down… then get bayoneted from behind by the Sneaky Oriental!)
    Yes, while Donnie and Cynthia are American cops policing in Hong Kong, there are lots of undertones of distain for America and a kind of hope for Oriental justice… It’s was a well-done effort, and I hope it made them feel better about LOOSING THE WAR!!! Nyah! Nyah! Nyah! Sorry, Victory is kind of like a perfume that smells just as sweet as the first time it was opened.

    Anyhow, one of the workers who helped unload a boat-load of drugs (unknowingly, of course) helps to rescue Cynthia who is caught sneaking around and taking samples for evidence. Wally, or so we’ll call him, because I cannot remember his name ever being used in the film, pretends that Cynthia is his girlfriend and takes her back to his apartment. He gives her cash, thinking that she was a stowaway on the aforesaid boat, and that she simply needs a helping hand from someone who’s “been there too.”
    The scene is broken by Wally’s brother who falls through a skylight. What he is doing on the roof is not explained, but down through the skylight jumps a gang of thugs. They are wielding a dangerous assortment of ball bats, bowie knives, one butterfly knife, and of all things, some wrenches… But not like the ones you use on your car. Or even ones you would use on a tank. Think, wrenches, like you would use to pop the lug nuts off of a Bowing 777. These wrenches are HUGE!!! They claim that Wally’s brother owes an outrageous debt, and then a fight breaks out. Lots of head whacks with the aforementioned wrenches and pipes. Lots of kicks and hard blows and shaking them off.
    In this particular fight scene, Cynthia displays a wonderfully clever nunchuck sequence that reflects some of her natural martial arts fluidity. Sadly, it is one of the few actions scenes/stunts that she actually does herself. All of the other major flips, flops, and falls are preformed by Woo Ping, himself, who also plays as a villain in the closing battle. It is very easy to tell Woo Ping from Cynthia, and if it were not for the creative scene cuts and clippings, we would be laughing our heads off at the obvious stand-in routines.

    Wally will go on to get framed by the CIA for killing Cynthia and Donnie’s partner, who is called ‘Bow-mou’ or Black Cat. His cheesy roll in the film, no pun intended, is to take a few pictures of the drug deal going down, and then get shot several times until dead. Black Cat hands the film to Wally, who runs from the CIA guys and the cops.
    The cops chase Wally back to Hong Kong and attempt to arrest him there. Donnie’s trusted partner, Michael, teams up with a gang of mostly white men and a black dude who has the muscles of Duke Nukem and the face of an angry buffalo… standing in the rain… at night, and a moustache.

    Donnie tries to kill Wally, because… well, because Donnie kills everyone. Cynthia tries to piece the puzzle together, and ends up saving Wally’s hide, several times, as well as her own, several times.
    Donnie is finally convinced of Wally’s innocence when an assassin, aka the White Monkey, tries to kill Wally.

    One of the more lighthearted scenes in the film occurs when Cynthia, with Wally in custody, takes him to say one last goodbye to his mother. Donnie is there, hand-cuffs Wally to Cynthia, and the mother enters the scene before there is time to un-cuff. The chain-liked duo must pretend to be happily engaged and perform, what I believe, is an incredibly clever comedy routine of eating soup, hugging the mother (a third party) and placing an engagement ring on a handcuffed hand, all without exposing the handcuffs themselves…

    In the final third of the movie, Cynthia helps Donnie discover that Michael is really working for the evil CIA, and they must expose him. Meaning, they must kung-fu him to death!

    In short, Woo Ping does a marvelous job in the kung fu department. The stunts that Cynthia does do herself are absolutely stunning. And the final sequence of Donnie Yen fighting the black buffalo are simply hilarious. Donnie is bad, yes. He is very brutal. However, the Black Buffalo, who is amazingly agile on his feet, and performs some of the best martial arts I’ve ever witnessed of a man his size, really blows it in the end. Foolishly abandoning his fine karate form he favors mindless charging and a style that can only be attributed to the ancient ‘Mother-bear-robbed-of-her-whelps” approach.

    The American women portrayed in the film was the absolutely ugliest female I have ever seen. The Wicked Witch of the West from Wizard of Oz was better looking, and I understand that SHE was a HE! I found it down right unnerving that she chose to represent a white female in a film, let alone an American and a CIA official at that. Ain’t it crazy what people will do for money?!

    On the whole, I think this movie was a lot of fun. A bit of an insult, but a lot of fun none the less. With a good-looking actress like Cynthia Khan (sigh!), the five bucks you’ll pay to get a copy is worth it. If anything, I found it quite humorous to see just how much the CIA was feared by Red China.
    The swearing didn’t exactly fit. The motorcycles were very wimpy. (Why everyone insisted on dirt bikes in the city I will never know.) The fact that the cops apparently just can’t go around beating people up like that… well, it made the movie a lawyer’s nightmare.
    The ending really stunk. A post-lude or even a closing line would have been nice… but the movie basically just stops where it does.
    And the one-sided American flag ending up covering the crumpled body of the villain struck me as improper, left lying on the floor.

    Five stars out of ten. Filming was welldone. Story line was a little choppy, but even watching the film with no subtitles proved possible to make out the story line. The stunts were very well preformed, and I’m sure people got hurt. If you watch close, just before the cut sequence on, say, the motorcycle stunts, you will see what I mean. The content was rated R for violence. The blood was fairly realistic with the gunshots hitting people, but the wounds looked so cheesy that, if anything, the R should have been given for the language. Lots of pointless swearing. The special effects were decent. Five stars is fair!

  • Michael Rain

    In The Line of Duty 4

    Written by Woo Ping, Directed by Woo Ping
    Review by Michael Rain

    When people told me the biggest gang in New York was the NYPD, I laughed. When they said that there is never a cop around when you need one, I kind of smirked. When they asked, “Why are all cops Irish?” I didn’t understand… cops aren’t Irish? They’re Chinese, right?

    At least, they all are in ILOD4.

    We start our story in what appears to be Seattle, WA. Here we find every step of a drug deal being carefully watched by the police, including Donnie Yen and (sigh!) Cynthia Khan. (sigh!)
    Each member of the drug party then gets tailed as they leave the mall where the actual deal is going down.

    Cythia Khan (sigh) will play the compassionate Inspector Yeung. Pausing here, we can’t help but notice that Inspector Yeung is a little too yeung to be an Inspector… but she’s way too cute and determined to ignore, and way to street wise and combative to dismiss… hence she is an inspector.
    Donnie Yen will play as the insensitive, no nonsense, all bad and ugly cop who is nothing short of mindless dedication to killing the bad guys. But that’s ok, ‘cause in real life, He’s kind of like that.

    Now, this is not your basic kung-fu flick. No, no, no. This is more like your average Roll playing Game from Squaresoft. In fact, I half-way expected to find some guy named ‘Sid’ put in here, somewhere’s just to make it complete.
    Yes, there is lots of fighting. Lots of people getting whacked over the head with gigantic wrenches, probably stolen from the Titanic’s shipyard. Immediately afterward, of course, they simply ‘rub off’ the incredible pain and go back in for more! Gotta love that dedication, there, yknow? I mean, how many of you would take a crowbar hit in the temple and back, so hard that it flips you completely and you land on your back… and you simply stand back up in immense pain, shake it off, and then go back in for fighting. Donnie Yen gets shot in the shoulder, and yet, he faces some black-scorpion wacko ninja without so much as flinching! Dedication is definitely a fine character trait for any plain-clothes detective or arch-rival villain.

    Without going into the play-by-play script of the movie, let me sum up by stating that the basic premise of the movie is that the American CIA is selling drugs to small-time operators from Hong Kong in exchange for money to fund the much-feared Contra forces in Vietnam.
    First of all, before you start throwing tomatoes at the movie review, let me ask one simple question.
    Have we, or have we not, made tons and tons of movies with the Chinese or Japs as bad guys?!? The thirties and forties were filled with movies like that… as well as the fifties, sixties, seventies, and eighties and nineties. Admit it, we did. So what if our movies were probably more truthful… I’m sure they were rather upset at how they were type-cast. Understand how they must have felt.
    Every oriental was stereotyped:
    a. Bucked Teeth.
    b. Martial Arts Killing Machines
    c. Sneaky and untrustworthy.
    (how many movies have you seen where it’s the Jap who is only ‘playing dead’ until the unsuspecting American GI has walked past with his guard down… then get bayoneted from behind by the Sneaky Oriental!)
    Yes, while Donnie and Cynthia are American cops policing in Hong Kong, there are lots of undertones of distain for America and a kind of hope for Oriental justice… It’s was a well-done effort, and I hope it made them feel better about LOOSING THE WAR!!! Nyah! Nyah! Nyah! Sorry, Victory is kind of like a perfume that smells just as sweet as the first time it was opened.

    Anyhow, one of the workers who helped unload a boat-load of drugs (unknowingly, of course) helps to rescue Cynthia who is caught sneaking around and taking samples for evidence. Wally, or so we’ll call him, because I cannot remember his name ever being used in the film, pretends that Cynthia is his girlfriend and takes her back to his apartment. He gives her cash, thinking that she was a stowaway on the aforesaid boat, and that she simply needs a helping hand from someone who’s “been there too.”
    The scene is broken by Wally’s brother who falls through a skylight. What he is doing on the roof is not explained, but down through the skylight jumps a gang of thugs. They are wielding a dangerous assortment of ball bats, bowie knives, one butterfly knife, and of all things, some wrenches… But not like the ones you use on your car. Or even ones you would use on a tank. Think, wrenches, like you would use to pop the lug nuts off of a Bowing 777. These wrenches are HUGE!!! They claim that Wally’s brother owes an outrageous debt, and then a fight breaks out. Lots of head whacks with the aforementioned wrenches and pipes. Lots of kicks and hard blows and shaking them off.
    In this particular fight scene, Cynthia displays a wonderfully clever nunchuck sequence that reflects some of her natural martial arts fluidity. Sadly, it is one of the few actions scenes/stunts that she actually does herself. All of the other major flips, flops, and falls are preformed by Woo Ping, himself, who also plays as a villain in the closing battle. It is very easy to tell Woo Ping from Cynthia, and if it were not for the creative scene cuts and clippings, we would be laughing our heads off at the obvious stand-in routines.

    Wally will go on to get framed by the CIA for killing Cynthia and Donnie’s partner, who is called ‘Bow-mou’ or Black Cat. His cheesy roll in the film, no pun intended, is to take a few pictures of the drug deal going down, and then get shot several times until dead. Black Cat hands the film to Wally, who runs from the CIA guys and the cops.
    The cops chase Wally back to Hong Kong and attempt to arrest him there. Donnie’s trusted partner, Michael, teams up with a gang of mostly white men and a black dude who has the muscles of Duke Nukem and the face of an angry buffalo… standing in the rain… at night, and a moustache.

    Donnie tries to kill Wally, because… well, because Donnie kills everyone. Cynthia tries to piece the puzzle together, and ends up saving Wally’s hide, several times, as well as her own, several times.
    Donnie is finally convinced of Wally’s innocence when an assassin, aka the White Monkey, tries to kill Wally.

    One of the more lighthearted scenes in the film occurs when Cynthia, with Wally in custody, takes him to say one last goodbye to his mother. Donnie is there, hand-cuffs Wally to Cynthia, and the mother enters the scene before there is time to un-cuff. The chain-liked duo must pretend to be happily engaged and perform, what I believe, is an incredibly clever comedy routine of eating soup, hugging the mother (a third party) and placing an engagement ring on a handcuffed hand, all without exposing the handcuffs themselves…

    In the final third of the movie, Cynthia helps Donnie discover that Michael is really working for the evil CIA, and they must expose him. Meaning, they must kung-fu him to death!

    In short, Woo Ping does a marvelous job in the kung fu department. The stunts that Cynthia does do herself are absolutely stunning. And the final sequence of Donnie Yen fighting the black buffalo are simply hilarious. Donnie is bad, yes. He is very brutal. However, the Black Buffalo, who is amazingly agile on his feet, and performs some of the best martial arts I’ve ever witnessed of a man his size, really blows it in the end. Foolishly abandoning his fine karate form he favors mindless charging and a style that can only be attributed to the ancient ‘Mother-bear-robbed-of-her-whelps” approach.

    The American women portrayed in the film was the absolutely ugliest female I have ever seen. The Wicked Witch of the West from Wizard of Oz was better looking, and I understand that SHE was a HE! I found it down right unnerving that she chose to represent a white female in a film, let alone an American and a CIA official at that. Ain’t it crazy what people will do for money?!

    On the whole, I think this movie was a lot of fun. A bit of an insult, but a lot of fun none the less. With a good-looking actress like Cynthia Khan (sigh!), the five bucks you’ll pay to get a copy is worth it. If anything, I found it quite humorous to see just how much the CIA was feared by Red China.
    The swearing didn’t exactly fit. The motorcycles were very wimpy. (Why everyone insisted on dirt bikes in the city I will never know.) The fact that the cops apparently just can’t go around beating people up like that… well, it made the movie a lawyer’s nightmare.
    The ending really stunk. A post-lude or even a closing line would have been nice… but the movie basically just stops where it does.
    And the one-sided American flag ending up covering the crumpled body of the villain struck me as improper, left lying on the floor.

    Five stars out of ten. Filming was welldone. Story line was a little choppy, but even watching the film with no subtitles proved possible to make out the story line. The stunts were very well preformed, and I’m sure people got hurt. If you watch close, just before the cut sequence on, say, the motorcycle stunts, you will see what I mean. The content was rated R for violence. The blood was fairly realistic with the gunshots hitting people, but the wounds looked so cheesy that, if anything, the R should have been given for the language. Lots of pointless swearing. The special effects were decent. Five stars is fair!

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