If you’re a Cynthia Rothrock fan and are going into ‘The Inspector Wears Skirts’ (1988) expecting a load of Rothrock action you’re initially going to be sorely disappointed as not only does she hardly appear in the movie but, excellent brief opening sequence aside, she doesn’t seem to appear in it at all (this is less a case of co-starring but NO-starring). Sure, it’s technically not her film but it’s not until an hour in that she finally pops-up again, so the question for Rothrock devotees is — is it too little too late? Let’s find out.
After a breach of sexual etiquette during a terrorist attack causes an international incident a decision is made to form an all-female special police unit known as SKIRTS (look, this was Hong Kong in the 1980’s, okay). These women will be trained to an incredibly high standard to demonstrate they can handle assignments as dangerous as those given to their male counterparts so when word that a daring jewel heist is going to be committed during a high-end fashion show it’s decided that this is the perfect opportunity for the SKIRTS to prove what they can do.
And that’s it. That’s the entire plot right there as after an explosive and exciting opening the next fifty minutes or so is nothing more than the comedic shenanigans of the girls in training and anybody who knows just how wince-inducingly awful 80’s Hong Kong comedy could be will know exactly what to expect/dread.
For example — there’s a scene in a roller skating rink when the girls have a night off that’s so unfunny and goes on for so long it becomes interminable and this combined with a lack of any clear narrative end-goal (we, and the SKIRTS, aren’t told about the jewel heist until it’s about to happen near the very end of the film) almost grinds everything to a screeching halt.
Fortunately the movie gradually improves with the three leads — Sibelle Hu, Kara Hui and Regina Kent — all being likeable and fun and you can slowly feel everything starting to come together a little more.
Then Rothrock pops back up for the final third and the movie suddenly comes alive with a palpable blast. The training scenes immediately become more energetic (why couldn’t Rothrock have been their instructor throughout?!), the pacing improves DRAMATICALLY and when the climactic jewel heist kicks-off the action is superb, possibly because it’s provide by producer Jackie Chan’s stunt team.
‘The Inspector Wears Skirts’ is one of those infuriating experiences in that it’s only fully entertaining in retrospect, when it’s actually over and you can look back on it with the knowledge that it does, ultimately, deliver. Until then it skates perilously close to boredom, frequently raising in the viewer’s mind that terrible question — is it going to be this dull all the way through?
The answer is “no”… just, and if ever a film has been saved by an excellent final 35 minutes it’s this one. It’s also a mixed-bag for Rothrock fans in that there’s the frustration at her seeming lack of screen-time counterbalanced by the fact that when she does ultimately reappear her sheer presence automatically makes everything better. But, then again, Rothrock fans already know that everything is always improved whenever she’s on-screen, and this movie works as a good confirmation of that glorious fact.