uen 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.
"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.