Yuen Qiu

Police Woman (女警察) (1973)

Police Woman will be forever branded as a Jackie Chan film, which is a damn shame because it’s not. Though once retitled Rumble in Hong Kong, an allusion to one of the actors’ most famous films, Rumble in the Bronx, for an American release, this is really a Yuen Qiu movie. Yuen, perhaps most famous for her role as the cantankerous landlord in Kung Fu Hustle, was part of the Seven Little Fortunes troupe, a group of young performers that included Chan, Sammo Hung, and Yuen Wah. They trained at the Beijing opera school, China Drama Academy, under Yu Jim Yuen. Like her contemporaries, Yuen found some early success in movies as an actor and stuntwoman, but unlike her classmates, her career never really took off and she retired after marrying. I wonder why.

The film industry, and sexism, done her wrong, but at least we can revisit her early work thanks to Netflix (well, Hong Kong Netflix). Yuen (credited as Lin Qiu) plays Inspector Ho Mai-Wa, the titular police woman in the film. Mai-Wa is trying to figure out why her sister, Mai-Fong (Hu Chin), ended up poisoned to death in the back of a cab. She teams up with the driver, Chan Kin (Charlie Chin, or Chow Yun-Fat’s Taiwanese twin), and they battle it out with some Mainland gangsters who are caught up in a drug smuggling operation. One of those thugs is nameless Jackie Chan character, a kid whose distinguishing feature is a huge mole that he really needs to get checked out.

Yuen appears briefly in the beginning of the movie, appropriately kicking some ass while undercover, but then disappears as Kin’s story takes over. The gangsters chase him down, beating and harassing him because they think Mai-Fong hid some evidence in his cab that could incriminate them. They keep going on about a purse and can’t take the hint that he has no idea where Mai-Fong might have stashed it. Kin’s the reluctant hero, an innocent, somewhat unwilling participant in all this. His mild manner makes him easy to like, but he’s a college-educated cab driver, not a fighter, and the action always seems to swirl around him.

Things pick up when Mai-Wa shows up, and she and Kin do a little more of the pursuing. This leads them to the gangsters’ hideout and a showdown in which they get help from another woman and Kin’s cab buddies. Mai-Wa doesn’t talk much, but there’s no doubt about who is leading things. Yuen is studied and smart as the inspector, a woman who is used to navigating a man’s world and does so successfully by laying low and being very competent.

In fact, all the women in this film possess the same guile. They are the most interesting characters because of what they have to hide. Mai-Fong, it turns out, is an associate of the gang, drawn into the criminal life in part by her laziness according to her sister. Sao Mei (Betty Pei Ti) is as well. Both are more than the kept or wronged woman. They make decisions of great consequence and courage that end up costing at least Mai-Fong her life. The actors do as much as they can with their brief screen time. The film moves at swift pace, and there’s little attempt to bulk up the narrative or characterization. Even the fight scenes have an economical and perfunctory quality, though they are still fine.

Alt Title: 師哥出馬, The Young Tiger, Rumble in Hong Kong, The Heroine, Here Comes Big Brother
Released: 1973
Dir: Chu Mu 朱牧
Action Dir: Jackie Chan 成龍, Yuen Cheung-Yan 袁祥仁
Writer: Chu Mu 朱牧, Ngai Hoi-Fung 魏海峰
Cast: Yuen Qiu 元秋, Charlie Chin Chiang-Lin 秦祥林, Lee Man-Tai 李文泰, Hu Chin 胡錦, Chiang Nan 姜南, Jackie Chan 成龍, Helena Law Lan 羅蘭, Fung Ngai 馮毅, Betty Pei Ti 貝蒂, Go Yeung 高揚
Time: 80 min
Lang: Mandarin
Country: Hong Kong
Reviewed: 2018