‘Yes, Madam’ or — Nothing That Special… Until Suddenly it Is?!
Despite the tantalising prospect of seeing Michelle Yeoh and the amazing Cynthia Rothrock co-lead an action movie together I was somewhat wary settling down to watch Corey Yuen’s ‘Yes, Madam’ (1985) because of prior knowledge regarding an executive decision made by the producers that could’ve potentially destroyed the entire movie for me.
Apparently when the producers saw the finished film they felt it was too downbeat and serious and so lost their nerve and decided to shoot and insert quite a bit of comedic material revolving around three inept, bumbling thieves. This automatically creates two problems. Firstly it immediately reduces Yeoh and Rothrock’s screen time (an unforgivable act) and pulls the spotlight back onto the guys at the expense of the female stars. Secondly, Sammo Hung was the film’s producer and I have MASSIVE issues with Hung’s style of comedy (I won’t go into it here as that’s an issue for a whole other time) so if this newly created humour was going to be anything like his usual shtick — i.e. immature, puerile, problematic and just downright grating — then this film would be in serious trouble.
The good news is despite all the above ‘Yes, Madam’ isn’t the unfunny mess it so easily could’ve been. Hung himself only appears in one scene (thank god) and the three thieves (named Aspirin, Strepsil and Panadol which should give you an idea of the level of humour here) and their storyline is decently entertaining meaning the only real crime committed here is that of the sidelining of the two supposed leads, although that’s still an unforgivable one.
So it’s a relief that ‘Yes, Madam’ is an enjoyable, if unremarkable, mid-eighties Hong Kong action flick that could be worse but certainly doesn’t have you sitting there thinking you’re watching some kind of masterpiece.
Until the final ten minutes that is which left me sitting there wide-eyed with wonder thinking I had just watched some kind of masterpiece because Yeoh and Rothrock’s climactic fight is one of the greatest fight sequences I’ve ever seen, and that’s not simply over-enthusiastic exaggeration on my part.
It’s a blisteringly brutal, frantic, dynamic explosion of flying kicks, breaking glass, broken heads and hurtling bodies that’s gob-smacking in its intensity, and Yeoh and Rothrock are simply hypnotising to watch which only adds to the already immense pleasure.
There’s a moment when Rothrock picks up a bamboo umbrella and expertly twirls it around her before facing the bad guys and beckoning them to come at her with a motion of her fingers… just like Neo does in ‘The Matrix’ (1999) which left me going “So THAT’S where they got that from!” And when they do attack she annihilates them with such energy I thought I was going to burst from excessive glee.
Another real show-stopping moment involves Yeoh, two henchmen and a balcony of glass panels that’s as hysterical as it is painful and might just be one of the most inspired fight moves I’ve ever seen in my life.
Yet what makes all this really fly isn’t just the highly skilled performances and stunt work but also the editing which is Peter-Hunt-early-era-Bond level of intensity with every cut, every edit, emphasising the impacts, the energy and the ‘gag’ and not once is clarity or spatial orientation sacrificed or lost for a second. This tight, precisely crafted control by everyone involved — choreographers, performers, stunt-work, direction, art and set design, editing, etc — creates a fight sequence that blew me through the bloody wall, which has just reminded me that I’ve still to apologise to my neighbours.
I’m not a fan of movies that are only worth watching for one isolated, if excellent, action scene because why bother sitting through 80 minutes of average filmmaking simply for ten minutes of great? ‘Yes, Madam’ isn’t quite that movie because there’s enough to enjoy before the climax, and even though they’re both somewhat unfairly overlooked in their own movie seeing Yeoh and Rothrock perform is always a delight.
Until the final ten minutes that is when mere delight turns into blue and pink pastel coloured, blonde-highlighted, heavily-lipsticked, glass-crashing, head-smashing ecstasy! As far as I’m concerned it’s the very definition of complete and total exhilaration.