— Sammo Law, a top flight cop and hand-to-hand combat instructor from Shanghai
, China comes to Los Angeles to search for a crime boss and a female undercover cop whom his department lost contact with. Once there, his temporary mission is turned into an ongoing exchange position and he is partnered with a pair of cops and is met with a clash in culture. As they battle the criminal elements of the city, his skill in martial arts proves to be a big help.
This 1999 show was largely inspired by the mid-90's Jackie Chan
craze, and the fights scenes were in the same vein of being fast-paced and filled with "blink and you'll miss it" actions. Not coincidentally, Sammo Hung
is also a long time friend of and frequent collaborator with Jackie. Sammo also had a noticeable brevity in speaking lines that were in English, due to a difficulty grasping a language foreign to his own cultural dialect.
Martial Law provides examples of the following tropes:
- Acrofatic: Sammo
- Action Girl: Dana and Grace
- Alliterative Name: Dana Dixon.
- Amoral Attorney: One of the villains in early episodes.
- Ancient Conspiracy: One appear near the end of the second season and Sammo's son is one of the members
- Arch-Enemy: Lee Hei to Sammo.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Sammo is one of the friendlier characters but if you threaten civilians or his friends, prepare for a world of beating.
- Bullying The Dragon: In the first episode, cop Portman mocks and insults Sammo, despite hearing that Sammo was the top cop in Shanghai and the senior training officer in martial arts and hand to hand combat. Sammo shows him quite politely how he earned those titles.
- By-the-Book Cop: Amy, at the start of season 2.
- Cool Car: Sammo won a cool convertible that accidentally rolled into the bay during a fight The Teaser of one episode. He replaced it with a used taxi, to Terrell's disgust.
- Cliffhanger Copout: The end of season 1 saw Sammo and Big Bad Lee Hei falling out of a helicopter over the ocean. Sometime during the summer, though, it was decided to retool the show, and instead of season 2 picking up off where the first had ended, it opened with a regular episode, with only scant allusions to a resolution to the previous events—Sammo asking if someone who's trying to kill him with a bomb is seeking vengeance for Lee Hei's death, and a fellow officer asking Sammo, "Hey, you fell out of a helicopter into the Pacific and survived... how much worse could a bomb be?" There was also no explanation for how Grace, who had been Bound and Gagged in the chopper (which, BTW, was also being piloted by one of Lee Hei's goons) managed to escape.
- Combat Pragmatist: Sammo, and his niece.
- Culture Clash: Often happens frequently with Sammo and the other cops and even between Sammo and Grace, due to Grace being raised in the United States.
- The Danza: Sammo Hung playing Sammo Law. As well as Louis Mandylor playing Louis Malone.
- Dark Action Girl: Lin Pei Chen, Lee Hei's daughter.
- Detective Mole
- Dirty Cop: A Secret Service agent in the first season who was helping the team investigate a counterfeiting operation turned out to be part of said operation.
- Doesn't Like Guns: Not that he doesn't like them, he just doesn't get one. Hand Waved as the brass being afraid things might get volatile if he had one. Don't think about it. Just don't.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Subverted with Lee Hei. When he accidentally shoots and kills his wife in the second episode, he's shocked, but he gets over it real fast. He also quite clearly states that It's All About Me when he is perfectly willing to let his daughter rot in jail.
- Even Evil Has Standards: In season two a crooked guard has no problem with threatening a city with a binary nerve gas to get a huge pay-off. When he finds out his partner plans to use it on the city whether or not they pay makes him try to stop him.
- Fair Cop: Just about.
- Fake Defector: Pei Pei does this to Lee Hei.
- Friend to All Children: Sammo gets along quite well with children and teenagers.
- Epunymous Title
- Game Show Appearance: In the first episode, Sammo furnishes his apartment by winning stuff in The Price Is Right.
- Heel Realization: Near the end of second season Sammo managed to talk his son out to make him think about his position in the secret society, without the audience knowing that he was successful.
- Hilarious Outtakes
- Hostage Situation: How the robbers in episode 10 made their escape once they realized they were outclassed by Sammo and Grace.
- Improv Fu: The show has Sammo Law present this art in its finest form.
- Improvised Weapon: Not terribly surprising given Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan were contemporaries in the Peking Academy of Opera.
- Literal-Minded: Sammo has a few moments where he takes some phrases or idioms literally due to not understanding the English terms.
- Manchurian Agent: One episode features a group of people who were turned into these during their studies in East Germany. A criminal uses them as an Killer-for-hire service.
- Married to the Job: Sammo's co-workers are even afraid to tell him that he has to take a week off.
- Martial Pacifist: Sammo
- Mistaken for Foreigner: Played with. Grace or Pei Pei was born in China but raised in the United States before returning back to China. The fact that she speaks English fluently and is knowledgeable about American norms surprises some characters.
- Mistaken for Servant: This was how Sammo and Terrell met where Terrell believed that Sammo was one of the caterers.
- Ms. Fanservice: Grace. Small wonder as it's Kelly Hu.
- Offscreen Teleportation: Terell apparently pulled this off, two bad guys thought that they pinned him down with gunfire, only for him to appear behind them with a gun on each hand.
- The Other Darrin: Season two's Big Bad, The One, was initially played (in a voice-only role) by Tim Curry, but when he appeared on-camera in the last episodes he was played by the somewhat slimmer Christopher Neame (who also overdubbed Tim Curry's lines in the appropriate "Previously On Martial Law" bits).
- Parents as People: Winship's brother was trying hard to raise his daughter Justine after his wife's death but as Justine pointed out, he was so involved in his work that he hardly paid attention to her at all and shuffled her off to a boarding school.
- Prison Rape: Referenced when Sammo and Terrell go undercover in a prison. We're shown the shower, which pans over to Terrell showering with every single piece of his clothing on. At the end of the scene, he drops the soap, and watches the other prisoners cautiously as he picks it up.
- Put on a Bus: Dana was written out of the show after only 5 episodes. Episode 6 did not even address her disappearance, and it wasn't until episode 7 that viewers learned her character transferred to a police department in Missouri to be closer to her parents. Meanwhile, both Louis & Lt. Winship were booted from the cast as part of the second season's Re Tool, explained in-story as the former transferring to NYPD while the latter retired (probably due to the gunshot injury he suffered in the first season's finale).
- Reality Ensues: When Sammo leaves the airport in the first episode, he ends up in a con-man's taxi. The con man drives him out to a remote area, where he is surrounded by a half-dozen men and robbed, without fighting back. Because that would be stupid, seeing as they were armed and could've plugged him full of holes. When they get back from commercial, he's reporting the crime at the police station, and everything is recovered at the end of the episode.
- Re Tool
- Replaced the Theme Tune: As part of the revamp, Mike Post's Asian-influenced rock theme was replaced with a more businesslike one by the late Joel Goldsmith (son of the late Jerry Goldsmith).
- Reverse Mole: Sammo's son apparently did a Heel-Face Turn and did his own gambit by shooting Sammo with a tranquilizer to bring him into the Supervillain Lair.
- Rule 34: Sammo's goes to a house looking for a suspect, and ends up in a meeting for people who are sexually aroused by engine vibrations.
- Token White: Louis in season 1, after Dana left. Amy during season 2.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Eveybody's surprised the first time they offer Sammo something to drink, and instead of tea he asks for Diet Coke; it usually happens Once per Episode.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: In episode "Cop Out" Sammo infiltrates into a group of policemen who kill criminals that have not been sentenced.