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. 

Some kicks

I stopped by my old Tae Kwon Do school for a bit this morning, with Phoebe in tow. They were having an open house and demo. (I haven’t been training there regularly for at least a couple of years, but I still keep in touch with some folks. In case you’re wondering, I was, and I guess technically still am, a blue belt…And in case you’re wondering, I wasn’t particularly good. Totally not athletic. Also not terribly coordinated. But I enjoyed it.) Anyhow, the demo was very cool, and Phoebe got to see some real-live martial arts action. Several of the instructors demonstrated some impressive breaking techniques. Mostly breaking boards. The chief instructor even broke a stack of 5 or 6 concrete slabs. Very impressive.

But I have to say that the high point of the demonstration for me was when one of the instructors called up some of the students to show some advanced kicks. He asked for a couple of young red belts to come up (those are students that are a couple of tests away from being black belts). He had them show some jumping and “flying” kicks. So they did a few flying side kicks and jumping crescent kicks, and it looked very cool. And then the instructor called up another red belt to join to the two in the demonstration. And he made the comment: “just so that everyone can see that boys can do these, too.” Because the first two students were girls. I hadn’t even thought about that fact until the instructor’s comment.

My TKD school is very supportive of women and girls who train in martial arts. In fact, it’s never even particularly been an issue there. And it was nice to be reminded of this. While most of the kids who train there are boys, four out of the maybe eight people who have become blackbelts training at the school are women. I never felt like my gender held me back. (Other things did. See aforementioned lack of athleticism and coordination. Also overcommitment to other things. While I’m not the only woman that’s trained there, I may possibly be the only grad student…) Anyhow, I’m hoping to try to get back into the training there soon. In my copious spare time.