Michelle Yeoh: kicking ass in “Supercop”


Supercop (1992) Jing cha gu shi III: Chao ji jing cha, or Police Story III: Supercop¹

Starring Michelle Yeoh.
Directed by Stanley Tong.
(Oh, yeah. It also stars Jackie Chan)

Supercop is a seriously fun Hong Kong action movie: it’s got oodles of martial arts, chase scenes galore, big fireball explosions, crazy stunts, really bad bad guys, really good good guys, and the streak of comedy that Hong Kong cinema does so well. But what this movie really has going for it is Michelle Yeoh.

Michelle Yeoh kicks some serious ass in this movie. On so many levels.

Jackie Chan plays a Hong Kong cop sent to help an investigation in mainland China. Michelle Yeoh plays a higher up in a Chinese security agency. The two go undercover together in pursuit of a big bad guy.

The contrasting characters are set up right from the start, starting with this introduction:

This is Chief of Security Yang. She can teach you a great deal.

Jackie Chan is smiley and charming, casual and friendly. Michelle Yeoh is serious and formal in her military uniform. Jackie Chan shows that he’s a bit slack in some areas, Michelle Yeoh shows him up. Michelle Yeoh plays the competent foil to Jackie Chan’s amiable buffoonery.

This movie is in many ways another buddy cop story: two characters with different backgrounds and personalities are partnered up for a short time to fight some crime. Like Lethal Weapon or Beverly Hills Cop. Or like another one of Jackie Chan’s movies, Rush Hour, about which Roger Ebert coined the term wunza:

“Rush Hour” is our reliable friend, the Wunza Movie, pairing two opposites: Wunza legendary detective from Hong Kong, and wunza Los Angeles cop. And wunza Chinese guy, and wunza black guy. And wunza martial arts expert and wunza wisecracking showboat. Neither wunza original casting idea, but together, they make an entertaining team.

In this case, one’s a loveable clown, and one’s all business. One’s from Hong Kong, one’s from Communist China. And one’s a man, one’s a woman.

In spite of the man-woman partnering business, this is a woman-man partnership that is not gooped up by sexual tension and romance.

It’s not that Michelle Yeoh is asexual, she’s feminine even. Neither of them is asexual. It’s just that their partnership isn’t about sex. Yeoh’s gender comes up a few times in the movie, such as when Chan worries that she’ll get in the way of his policework because he’ll be worried about her. “I can’t look after you,” he tells her. She retorts that she was supposed to “look after” him. It’s totally believable that she should be the one looking after him.

I love it that even the undercover character, the little sister “Hana” to Jackie Chan’s undercover role, is still a strong woman. She stands up for, and to, her “brother” in the interactions they have for the benefit of the bad guys. When Chan slaps her as a ruse to keep their cover from being broken, he explains to the bad guy onlooker: “She gave me some of her female backtalk, so I thought I’d teach her a lesson.” Hana/Yang/Yeoh’s response? She slaps him right back, saying:

You think you’re superior, huh? Mao Tse Tung said that women are the real power of society.

She’s a partner to Jackie Chan, not a sidekick. If anything, he seems a bit like her sidekick. She’s an agent, not just a pawn. She doesn’t need to be rescued. She comes to the rescue.

In fact my absolute favorite scene, and I don’t think I can possibly do it justice, is when Yang (Yeoh’s character) comes to the rescue in a country restaurant. She and Chan have gone undercover with a group of minor thugs in order to go after a big bad, and the group goes out to dinner in a restaurant. Some local police recognize some of the bad guys, and move in for an arrest. While Yang is out of the room, Chan and the bad guys have a fight with the police, and are rounded up. Enter Yang. She jumps in, and I mean literally jumps in, to the rescue. Taking down two guys at once with a single double kick. What follows is a brief but well-choreographed fight scene where Michelle Yeoh gets to show off her skill and grace, fighting off at least two at a time.

In this scene, she’s wearing her hair in braided pigtails with ribbons, and dressed in a bright red cardigan with a white-collared shirt. She looks a bit like a little girl, with her braids flying. At the same time, she’s kicking some serious ass. I love it.

The movie’s not ideal as far as being all about women kicking ass. There is a woman in distress, in the form of Chan’s girlfriend, played by Maggie Cheung. Her role is in part as the woman who moves the plot forward by means of her cluelessness, and who ultimately finds herself bound up, gagged, and in need of rescue. In spite of that, she shows some spine and wit of her own. Overall, the women characters are strong, intelligent, and more than just pretty faces.

Michelle Yeoh’s character is not flawless, either, mind you. She makes a few mistakes here and there. After all, the plot does need to move forward, and it is Jackie Chan’s movie, primarily, so he can’t be expected to make all the mistakes. At the same time her businesslike competence is never “softened up” and shown to be a flaw, as is all too often the formula. Her strength and strength of character remain assets through the end of the movie.

Michelle Yeoh’s character has everything I like to see in an action movie lead: she’s smart, competent, clever. She thinks on her feet (or sometimes up in the air with feet kicking), and doesn’t back down easily. She shows moral character. She’s calm, intelligent, resourceful. Witty and tough.

And since we’re talking action, let’s not forget all the action. Michelle Yeoh totally kicks ass in the action department. Can I just point out that, in this movie, Michelle Yeoh performed her own stunts? Yeoh not only gets her share of kick-ass fight scenes, she also gets some cool chase scenes. Can anyone top the chase scene where she perfoms a motorcycle jump to land on a moving train?

I rest my case.

This post is part of the Action Heroine Blog-a-thon.

——————————

¹ I’ve only seen the dubbed version. As dubbing goes, it’s better than most. One thing is that Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh dub their own lines. I can’t compare the dubbed English script to the original Cantonese dialog. I’ll refer to this movie by the title on this dubbed release, since that’s the one I know. 


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13 responses to “Michelle Yeoh: kicking ass in “Supercop”

  1. Oh, but I so love the badly dubbed films.

    I love the “wunza”. Brilliant.

  2. In response to NotSoSage: I, OTOH, do NOT love badly dubbed films.

    Hi Alejna —

    Agree that SUPERCOP is not as badly dubbed as many other movies. However, the English dubbed version also is a cut version. And, if memory serves me right, a pan and scan version that cuts out Michelle Yeoh in certain scenes in which she can be seen in the letter box version of the film.

    Also, it’s not Anita Mui playing the role of Jackie’s girlfriend in this movie (along with the previous two POLICE STORY films — the title for this film actually is POLICE STORY III: SUPERCOP in Hong Kong). Rather, it’s Maggie Cheung Man Yuk — who is kick ass alongside Michelle Yeoh and Anita Mui in THE HEROIC TRIO but also has since graduated to doing such as starring in Wong Kar Wai films and Olivier Assayas. (A couple of years ago, she won the Best Actress award at Cannes for CLEAN.)

    BTW, Anita Mui played Jackie Chan’s character’s kick-ass stepmum in DRUNKEN MASTER II. Though she can’t be compared to Michelle Yeoh in SUPERCOP, she’s still pretty cool…and especially as stepmothers go! :)

  3. NotSoSage-
    Yeah, the wunza bit was brilliant. Wish I’d thought of it.

    YTSL-
    Ack. Thanks for correcting me on the Maggie Cheung thing. (I’ve edited it.) I’m not even sure how I did that, except for the fact that I have a bad cold. Strange thing is, I even looked up her name, but somehow…translated?…to a completely different name that I know from other movies. That is very strange. Sigh. Maybe I was thinking about Heroic Trio?

    As for the version, I’ll definitely have to track myself down an uncut version. Mine is at least a full screen, not a pan and scan.

  4. I mean my version is wide screen. (I keep forgetting that “full screen” is not wide screen. We have a widescreen TV, so I think of “full screen” as being something that fills the screen…)

  5. NotSoSage – i don’t know if you’re much of a fan of mid-80s anime, but the mazinger-z collection has some uh-MAY-zingly bad subtitling, especially in the later, never-translated-for-US episodes.

    my favorite line: “increase the soup!”

    it has nothing to do with food.

  6. i love michelle yeoh but boy –she is always the “serious” one in the pairings isn’t she. nobody lets her loosen up.

    still love to watch her in action though

  7. i love yeoh and i think ive seen this movie on tv but i can’t recall. that’s the problem with me and jackie chan movies, they all look the same to me. but yeoh rocks my socks in crouching tiger, hidden dragon and memoirs of a geisha.

  8. Based on what happens when Michelle Yeoh loosens up (e.g., “Easy Money”, “Magnificent Warriors” and, worst of all, “Silverhawk”), I’d rather she not loosen up! Instead, far better to see her in movies like “Police Story III: Supercop”, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and the truly gritty and often grim “Royal Warriors”.

  9. jenny-
    I will have to use “increase the soup” in the future.

    Nathaniel-
    Yeah, she does tend to run serious. I was going to say that I hadn’t seen her in “lighter” roles, but that I bet YTSL would know. (But here she’s come and read my mind!)

    Lucas-
    Jackie Chan does tend to play pretty similar characters in a lot of his movies. I wonder how much of it is acting, and how much is just his personality. They do have a big range of scenarios, settings, plot details and supporting cast, but these seem somewhat secondary to Jackie Chan himself. For me the issue is that for several of his movies, I can’t remember the title. (Or the English version of the title. Not that I know the original titles, either.) There’s “the one where he’s a chef” and “the one where he’s in Australia.”

    YTSL-
    I haven’t seen “Silverhawk.” Should I dare? Or will it make me sad? (I saw “Easy Money,” and have only vague memories of disappointment. Or perhaps boredom? And I don’t really remember “Magnificent Warriors”. I need to rewatch “Royal Warriors,” too.)
    Too bad you don’t have more time for blogging these days, by the way. I was so hoping that you’d be able to write about Brigitte Lin. Did you see that somebody else did? (I actually thought about watching “Peking Opera Blues” again, to write about it in your honor! But in the end, I decided to write about a movie I know better, and one of my earliest kick-ass woman favs.)

  10. Noooooooooooo, Alejna, you really shouldn’t dare. “Silverhawk” is, IMNSHO, Michelle Yeoh’s nadir. (Though, to be fair, I haven’t seen “Memoirs of a Geisha” and am intent on staying far away from that.)

    Oh, and thanks so much for linking to that Brigitte Lin homage. And you know, I’d love to read your thoughts of “Peking Opera Blues” — especially if they’re gushing about Brigitte and co. :)

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  12. Supercop is one of my favourite films,as I’m a huge Jackie Chan fan.However,while it is good to see headstrong female characters.It should not stop them from falling into the bad guys clutches.Its only acting,and personally,I think any actress willing to do that,increases her popularity.

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