The Savage Stack - YES, MADAM! (1985)
There’s always going to be – for lack of a better term – a stack of films we’ve been meaning to get to. Whether it’s a pile of DVDs and Blu-rays haphazardly amassed atop our television stands, or a seemingly endless digital queue on our respective streaming accounts, there’s simply more movies than time to watch them. This column is here to make that problem worse. Ostensibly an extension of Everybody’s Into Weirdness (may that series rest in peace), The Savage Stack is a compilation of the odd and magnificent motion pictures you probably should be watching instead of popping in The Avengers for the 2,000th time. Not that there’s anything wrong with filmic “comfort food” (God knows we all have titles we frequently return to when we crave that warm and fuzzy feeling), but if you love movies, you should never stop searching for the next title that’s going to make your “To Watch” list that much more insurmountable. Some will be favorites, others oddities, with esoteric eccentricities thrown in for good measure. All in all, a mountain of movies to conquer.
The forty-ninth entry into this unbroken backlog is the Michelle Yeoh/Cynthia Rothrock ass-kicking team up, Yes, Madam!...
Before turning Jason Statham into an oil-slicked, musclebound martial arts monster in The Transporter ('02) and choreographing the lion's share of Jet Li's breakthrough motion pictures, Corey Yuen helmed some of the wildest, funniest, most furious pieces of Hong Kong action ever put to celluloid (and if you know your HK cinema, you know that's saying a lot). A former pupil of Master Yu Jim Yuen at the Chinese Drama Academy, Corey then became a member of the Seven Little Fortunes troupe of child acrobats. Also known as the "Lucky Seven", Yuen's kung fu compatriots included Jackie Chan (Yuen Lo), Sammo Hung (Yuen Lung), Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah, all of whom went on to help reinvent popular Chinese filmmaking during the '70s and '80s.
Following his years as a child acrobat star, Yuen's career began in front of the camera as an actor and stuntman. Though he was not nearly as prolific as some of his CDA comrades, Corey worked on staples such as Secret Rivals ('76), The Invincible Armor ('77), and Dance Of The Drunken Mantis ('79). When producer Ng See-Yuen founded Seasonal Films, he did so in the name of bringing new martial arts talent to a mainstream audience. One of his initial major successes was helping to launch Jackie Chan's inimitable star with Drunken Master and Snake In Eagle's Shadow (both '78). Recognizing his unique skills as a choreographer, Ng gave Yuen his first shot at helming a movie (following an uncredited co-directing turn on the Leesploitation junker, Game of Death II ['81]), resulting in the simply awesome Ninja In the Dragon's Den ('82).
Yet no matter how thrilling Yuen's first credited feature was, nothing could've prepared the world for Yes, Madam! ('85), his madcap living cartoon that would pair two of the greatest women in the history of martial arts cinema as no nonsense cops. Also known as Police Assassins, this insane team up would kick off the "girls with guns" subgenre that would become a craze of its own within Hong Kong cinema during the '80s. The plot of Yes, Madam! is ridiculous and convoluted to the point of being nigh incomprehensible, but none of that really matters. What we're really here for is to see former Miss Malaysia Michelle Yeoh and five-time World Champion Cynthia Rothrock decimate all oncoming challengers. Yuen's film is a breathless, barely-ninety-minute mixture of Looney Tunes-style comedy and breakneck fisticuffs, ending on a note that's strangely nihilistic, given the goofball tone that dominates the rest of the proceedings.
The rubbish that does stand in for a narrative throughline involves three bumbling crooks (John Sham, Hoi Mang and Tsui Hark), who inadvertantly steal a coveted microfilm from a shady Scottish agent visiting Yeoh's Inspector Ng, causing cackling Triad boss Mr. Tin (James Tien) to sic his top dog (Dick Wei) on the trio of Buster Keatons. To be honest, the first thirty minutes of Yes, Madam! are a bit of a mixed bag, playing like an extended Saturday morning special, with soon-to-be super producer Hark (who was a year out from bringing John Woo's A Better Tomorrow ['86] into theaters) acting as the gang's Bugs Bunny. It's not that the comedy is bad (there's actually some inspired lo-fi stuntwork during these yuk-yuk set pieces), but once Rothrock shows up, the movie literally kicks its way into another gear.
Dear Lord, what an entrance Cynthia Rothrock makes. Playing Scotland Yard inspector Carrie Morris, she flip-kicks her way into the picture, nearly taking a 'roided counterfeiter's head off in the middle of the airport. Yes, Madam! is servicable fun up until this point, but once Rothrock and Yeoh are side-by-side, they make for a duo that's like the Hong Kong Ladies' Night precursor to Lethal Weapon ('87), only neither are really playing the "straight (wo)man". Yeoh is just as ready to toss these theiving nerds to the wolves if it leads her to Mr. Tin, and Rothrock won't even wait that long, using a suspect as a heavy bag in the interrogation room (all while stolen cues from Halloween ['78] blare on the soundtrack). It's easy to see why Yes, Madam! spawned a slew of cash-in imitators, as these two are just a joy to watch, stomping their way through this man's criminal enterprise, never once fearing any sort of reprisal.
If Yuen makes a mistake, its that he follows the screenplay James Clouse and Barry Wong wrote too closely, shifting the focus back to Hark & Co. when Yeoh and Rothrock are the real pulse of the picture. But none of that matters once we reach the go-for-broke finale, where Inspectors Ng and Morris take on an army of goons in Mr. Tin's lavish lair. The set piece ranks amongst the greatest ever conceived in action cinema history, as bodies are tossed through glass, bamboo umbrellas are used as weapons, and Yeoh and Rothrock mangle every thug (including Fat Chung's absolutely ludicrous Mad Dog) that steps to them. It's a glorious moment of extended choreography that reminds you why you sit down with action pictures like this in the first place. They become dances of destruction, as our beautiful heroines take as much brutal punishment as they dole out. Corey Yuen delivered many stunning moments of fluid mayhem throughout his career, but few have ever reached the highs of Yes, Madam!
Yes, Madam! is available now on Region 3 DVD or Region A Blu-ray (sorry America).