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Review: Yes, Madam!

[The following review contains SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]

A Cynthia Rothrock vehicle is currently featured on the front page of the Criterion Channel. What a time to be alive!

The film in question—Corey Yuen’s Yes, Madam!—stars Rothrock as Inspector Carrie Morris, a Scotland Yard detective dispatched to Hong Kong to investigate the theft of a valuable MacGuffin (don’t worry about the specific details; the script certainly doesn’t). The fact that the martial artist turned actress is about as British as Dick Van Dyke is irrelevant; all of her dialogue is dubbed over into perfectly accented Cantonese—including the English loan words, which really isn’t how bilingualism works. Consequently, her performance is often awkwardly stiff and wooden (flawlessly executed fight choreography notwithstanding).

Fortunately, the quality of the movie doesn’t rest entirely on Rothrock’s shoulders; she’s merely one half of a classic buddy cop duo. Her counterpart in the local police department, Inspector Ng (Michelle Yeoh in her first major role), firmly establishes her badass credentials during her introductory scene, when she effortlessly thwarts an armored car robbery literally seconds after apprehending an unrelated perp for indecent exposure. She even manages to one-up Dirty Harry when the last remaining unlucky punk recklessly bets that her shotgun is empty—a gamble that costs him his hand.

Sadly, despite the undeniable chemistry that Yeoh and Rothrock share (homoerotic subtext is, after all, an integral and inextricable component of the genre’s DNA, and this distaff variation on the formula is no exception), the relationship between their characters is the narrative’s weakest link. Like Riggs and Murtaugh, they bicker and banter and butt heads incessantly—but this superficial conflict is completely inorganic, lacking any discernible motivation. Following their initial encounter, for example, Morris berates Ng for allowing her pursuit of a suspect to endanger innocent bystanders… but subsequent interactions depict her as equally impetuous, hotheaded, and prone to excessive force, if not more so. Because the two women are nearly indistinguishable in terms of their skills, methods, and personalities, the "grudging respect" that eventually develops between them is likewise unconvincing; Carrie's decision to relinquish her badge and gun in solidarity with Ng, which should represent a significant turning point in her arc, instead feels totally obligatory and perfunctory—a payoff utterly devoid of buildup.

But these storytelling blemishes are relatively minor. Indeed, it’s difficult to criticize the plot too harshly when it exists for the sole purpose of justifying the kung fu action and slapstick comedy—qualities that shine all the brighter with the legendary Sammo Hung serving as the producer. Yes, Madam! is tonally inconsistent, structurally disjointed, and thematically incoherent—and I loved every gloriously absurd minute of it.

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