1 March 2008 | rettercritical
"In The Line Of Duty 5 : Middle Man" - One of the best in the series
I go into this review with a bias because this film converted me to a genre I had ignored up until that point. "In The Line Of Duty: 5 Middle Man" gets started strait away with a fly kick through the windshield of a moving vehicle, a walking up the walls of an ally way kickboxing confrontation and a fight on the back of a moving truck within the first few minutes of the film! This intro grabs your attention if you are an action lover or even better action purest.
This is the fifth in the series of films that are pretty much the same and almost indistinguishable but have varying qualities and standards. The films were made by D And B films in Hong Kong and are aimed at both a local and international market. There is quite a bit of English language used in the series and they have international cast.
Cynthia Khan was quite popular at this time and she stars as a cop with David Wu as her cousin who has just come home from the army. Another interesting member of the cast is Kim Maree Penn who is a blond Australian woman very capable of the quick martial arts choreography in Hong Kong cinema. The plot does not matter but it involves espionage and the selling of military secrets. Forget stories because story serves only the purpose to set up exciting sequences.
This film delivers quite well in martial arts action. This is of a time with no CGI and there is little use of wire work or camera tricks. The fight scenes are high impact, occasionally clever and improvisational. Cynthia Khan gets to show off her gymnastic/dancing background on some fortunately placed parallel beams and cuts loose some shipping cargo to smash a speed boat to pieces. To me this is the peak of the series, not including the first entry "Yes Madam" which is a classic and one of the standouts of the fighting female films. I like number five because when I compare it to four it has better action, which is strange when you consider four has direction by Yuen Wo Ping and co-stars Donnie Yen. Four has fight scenes that are way too sped-up also known as "under cranked" were the martial arts is very obviously in fast forward and looks too unrealistic looking like a silent film. Five does not suffer from this quite so excessively and is therefore easier to enjoy. It really surprises me how many people hold four as such a great film. Four has had a Hong Kong Legends DVD release as "In The Line Of Duty" in the west and perhaps the availability contributes to the amount of people who like it.
The Climax of ITLOD-5 is a beautifully shot and paced fight between Cynthia Khan and Kim Maree Penn that turns into swordplay. I like one still moment where they stand silent and snow begins to fall before they start hacking steel blades into each other again. Perhaps this is an inspiration for a moment in Tarantino's "Kill Bill" during a battle between Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu were there is a similar moment. The choice of climactic villain is excellent and is one of the reasons Kim Maree Penn has had cult following. Penn gives a great performance in this sequence as a real deadly princess. Yes the film is kind of dodgy but there is plenty of entertainment in the film where I think they got the formula of the series just right. I believe this is a good example of Hong Kong action cinema where the budget is big enough to make a nice to look at film but small enough requiring the choreography to be tight, action quite demanding for the cast and stunt work rather than camera trickery or computer generated images. For me stunt work is at its best when what takes place on the screen actually impresses and surprises. This film does that to some extent. The fight scenes are not overly edited and you can watch free flowing martial arts for a dozen blows before a change of angle. Cynthia takes many knocks and tumbles to the ground.
This film is really of another era now. Although it was only made in 1990 action cinema is radically different now because of CGI and the use of rapid editing. We no longer demand the physical daring or skill that HK delivered in this era of 1970's to early 1990's. Other good examples of this modern day cop martial arts genre are the "Police Story" and "Tiger Cage" series but the difference with the "In The Line Of Duty" films is that the protagonist has always bean a female. Ultimately this series is like ballet or Peking opera. This is a very visual entertainment that Hong Kong created partly because Cantonese is not widely spoken in Asia. Action made HK cinema competitive, widely appealing and became the third most successful film producing territory after Hollywood and Bollywood.
I was converted to this genre after seeing this film late one night on SBS television in Australia. I could not believe the first five minutes with the hardcore kung fu involving the fly kick through the windscreen of that car. The following sequences kept me watching something I Had not seen done before in the west. I have seen all the real classic Hong Kong 1980's action flicks since but I believe this to be still an above average film of its type. The film is silly (no sh*t!) but a kind of trash entertainment that becomes something wonderful and beautiful to watch. Choreography with artistry, impact and rhythm baptised me into the genre I spent years following. If you enjoy this genre you should see this fifth entry of the popular ITLOD series. ITLOD-5 is actually quite an underrated film and they don't make pictures quite like this anymore!