Kaiju Shakedown: The Naked Movies
Suspenseful synthesizers squeal on the soundtrack as a woman in a poufy orange top, invisible miniskirt, and high-fashion hat clip-clops nervously down empty, blue-lit Hong Kong streets. Someone is stalking her! She barely makes it to the elevator of her chromed-up apartment building before a faceless man wearing armored shoulder pads pushes his way into the lobby. The steadicam trails her into a vast apartment, the killer following right behind. Synthesized classical music tinkles as he slams into the bathroom and confronts a nude Carrie Ng in his shower.
“What are you doing in my apartment?” he demands. “I usually shower before I go to work,” she says, drawing a silenced pistol from God knows where, and shooting him in both kneecaps.
Then she crushes his skull between two barbells, throws his twitching body onto a Soloflex exercise machine, and pops a final cap in his crotch, a bloody squib exploding from his penis like a deathgasm, a tendril of smoke wafting from the bloody hole in his jeans.
Holy De Palma! What the heck was that? Nothing less than the opening scene of Wong Jing’s Naked Killer (92), the tender tale of two teams of lesbian hit-women out to kiss, and kill, one another. It was such an evergreen idea that Wong would spawn a duplicate every 10 years. While Naked Killer was firmly aimed at the Hong Kong (and Taiwanese) market, Naked Weapon (02) was aimed at the American market, and Naked Soldier (12) was targeted at Mainland China.
Which Naked is best? Let’s compare! Only one shall survive…
Launched in the midst of the Category III boom, when producers were taking full advantage of a new ratings category to deliver a more bountiful buffet of blood, boobs, and butts to audiences, Naked Killer arrived at the tail end of the Girls with Guns craze. But whereas GwG movies promoted sisterhood over sexiness, keeping its heroines in dowdy outfits and reserving couture for the bad guys, NK drapes its divas in designer fashions, outrageous hats, pimping canes, and lingers over their cleavages so salaciously that you expect them to get splattered with drool.
The film’s Dressed to Kill–esque cold open gives way to the tale of Kitty (Chingmy Yau), a nice girl who helps out her friends by stabbing their cheating boyfriends in the dick. Her fun-loving antics in a salon (where she leaves the lascivious hairdresser on his knees howling, “I lost one ball of mine!”) attracts the attention of Tinam (Simon Yam), a cop who recently shot his partner and vomits whenever he sees his own gun. After her mom’s lover, Bee (Ken Lo, Jackie Chan’s bodyguard), kills Kitty’s dad, Kitty storms into Bee’s office wearing a baggy shirt and unflattering jeans, shoots him a few times, then stabs him in the dick with a pen.
Waves of henchmen get the upper hand, however, and Kitty only escapes when a mild-mannered, middle-aged bystander in a preposterous hat turns out to be the butt-kicking Sister Cindy (Yiu Wai) and her hat turns out to be a bomb. Stripping down to an all-black bodysuit, Sister C soon has the chumps on the run, and she drags the unconscious Kitty back to her place, shaves off her fingerprints, and teaches her to never go out killing anyone looking like a frump again. “Sex, the wonder weapon of us,” she coos, stroking Kitty’s breasts. Then she lets her protégé murder a rapist she has chained up in the basement.
Sister Cindy spends lots of time fondling Kitty, but it is for educational purposes only. Halfway through the movie we meet Princess (Carrie Ng), the killer from the opening scene, who seduces dudes in swimming pools, stabs them repeatedly in the face, then cuddles her lover’s dirty pillows in a billowing cloud of her victim’s spurting blood. A cigar-chomping assassin, Princess trained with Sister Cindy, but now murders men freelance. She’s clearly the bad guy because she fondles breasts for lust.
Things take a turn for the Vertigo when Tinam sees Kitty again, she denies being Kitty, claims that she’s an air hostess from Singapore, and the two fall into an obsessive, doomed romance that climaxes in a candle-lit lovemaking scene while Princess watches through her rifle scope. As the lovers climax, Princess blasts a clip into the ceiling of her spy-hole, then ravages her assistant’s muffinbutt while fantasizing about Kitty. It only ends when everyone dies in a shower of poisoned kisses.
Wong Jing is Hong Kong’s evil genius of the box office, having directed 96 movies, produced 144, and written 167. Although his lowest-common-denominator films have been dismissed as “a taste of sugar, a taste of shit,” he’s a shrewd student of Chinese film history. Sister Cindy, with her righteous mission to kill “wolves” and her exotic weapons (flying daggers, razor wire, exploding hats), is a clear throwback to Hong Kong’s Jane Bond tradition of the Sixties, when superheroines in black bodysuits stole from the rich, punished criminals, and dominated the box office. Wong Jing helped launch the careers of Chow Yun-fat, Stephen Chow, and Shu Qi, and he knows exactly what he’s doing.
“Many actresses [started stripping before the camera], but no one packaged the result as strongly nor duplicated our effectiveness,” he said in an interview years ago when asked about Naked Killer. “It was completely without packaging. It was purely stripping. I hired a renowned Playboy photographer to shoot the film poster . . . I hired Huo Yao-liang, who is renowned for filming women in the most flattering manner, to direct the movie. The clothes were incredibly expensive. The result was much more extravagant. That is why, to this day, everyone still considers Chingmy Yau to be sexy and not simply possessing ‘fleshy bombs.’”
Packaging works, and Naked Killer became an iconic Hong Kong movie and remains an exploitation classic today. It may not have done well at the box office, but the only real bomb in sight is the one inside Sister Cindy’s hat.
In 2002, Hong Kong was experiencing one of its worst years ever, with more people declaring personal bankruptcy than in the previous 20 years combined. The film industry wasn’t just on fire, it was ashes. Producers were trying to save their bottom lines by turning out bland, international action movies they hoped to sell in the West. Movies like Skyline Cruisers (00), Gen-Y Cops (00; featuring Paul Rudd), and The Accidental Spy (01) were full of bad CGI, terrible English dialogue, and Asian-American actors who required lots of wirework and digital effects to turn them into action stars. Almost every single one of these movies crashed and burned. Naked Weapon was Wong Jing’s entry in this cinematic demolition derby, and it’s the only one that emerged intact from the carnage.
Instead of Sister Cindy, here we have Madame M (Almen Wong), who abducts 40 little girls and imprisons them on her secret training island for six years. There, European men in muscle shirts shout at them while Madame M lounges on her throne in a zebra-print dress, wakes them up by firing an M-16 at their beds, assigns homework like “Kill the nearest girl and bring her body outside,” and teaches them not just how to field-strip a gun but how to apply make-up and walk the runway.
At graduation, the 40 girls (wearing tank tops and hot pants) are instructed to fight each other in a battle royal, with the survivor to be tapped as Madame M’s new assassin. It seems a little inefficient to me, but then again, what do I know about training international hit-women? Three of her students are so good, however, that Madame M breaks her own rule and allows them all to attend the graduation dinner. “We should do this more often,” she purrs. Even though the three girls can identify the wine they’re drinking by taste, they can’t identify that their wine is full of drugs, and they soon slump to the table and Madame M has them gang-raped by Westerners.
“Now your body no longer belongs to you,” she says. “It’s a weapon.”
Then they… work for her as assassins? The character motivations are confusing, to say the least. Fortunately, Charlene (Maggie Q) is being stalked by CIA agent Jack Chen (Daniel Wu), who is so sensitive that when they end up trapped in the back of a freezer truck together, he gives her his jacket to stay warm. Then an insane Japanese businessman comes looking for revenge on Madame M. (“My friend Carlos was killed by a dancing female assassin!” he screams. “Do you have any idea how lonely I get without him?”) Charlene gets shot by… aphrodisiacs? Which make her horny? And she and Jack almost have sex before he panics and dumps her in the ocean? Then there’s a final fight, Charlene and Jack make love on the beach, and he wakes up to find a Dear John letter.
Wong Jing assigned directing duties to action choreographer, Ching Siu-tung (A Chinese Ghost Story I to III, Swordsman II), and he does his best to make these Asian-American models look like fighters, but as graceful as they are, none of them can deliver a punch, requiring the blows to be sold by dubbing in thundercracks on the soundtrack. But no amount of sound editing can conceal the fact that the cast delivers their lines as if they’re trying to remember them. And the tonal shifts are jarring, like the scene in which Charlene murders someone for the first time and weeps about it in a poignant moment undermined by the fact that Katt is simultaneously soaping her breasts for her.
What the movie does have going for it are glossy production values, great costumes, and swank cinematography. Unfortunately, there’s not much originality on hand to go with the bigger budget. Ching Siu-tung not only rips off his own choreography, but he also steals gags from John Woo’s The Killer, Lee Myung-se’s Nowhere to Hide, and the final fight looks way too much like The Matrix Reloaded for comfort. Even when he films his hometown of Hong Kong, the shots are all reheated leftovers from someone else’s imagination.
Ten years later, Mainland China was the hottest market on the planet and every Hong Kong filmmaker wanted to make it big over there. And so Wong Jing gave the Mainland its very own Naked movie: Naked Soldier, directed by longtime Wong editor, Marco Mak. Due to Mainland censorship laws, there could be no exposed female flesh, mockery of the police, or unpunished criminality. Because Naked Killer is nothing but unpunished criminality and mockery of the police (right down to the scene in which a cop, quite literally, eats a dick), this sounded like a recipe for disaster. The casting didn’t help, either. Starring Jennifer Tse (sister of superstar Nic Tse) in the role of conflicted assassin Phoenix; Tse’s real-life boyfriend, Andy On, as Sam, the cop who falls in love with Phoenix; Sammo Hung as Lung, her long-lost dad; and Sammo’s son, Timmy Hung, as Pete, Sam’s partner, the lineup makes it clear that nepotism was pretty much the only job requirement.
If Naked Weapon had bad dialogue, I’m not sure what to call the lines that pepper Naked Soldier. A newscaster breathlessly reports on “A drug case that involves the largest number of drugs… ever.” Doctors in an ER shout frantically to “Get the machine! Get the machine!” If CGI had its cold, digital fingers all over Naked Weapon, here it’s wrapped those fingers around Naked Soldier’s throat. There are CGI blood squibs, CGI mirrors breaking, CGI doors shattering, CGI muzzle flashes flashing, CGI fireballs balling.
In the opening scene, Lung breaks up a drug ring only to have his peaceful Christmas family dinner invaded by evil white people led by Madame Rose (Ellen Chan), who keeps a special bullet in her cane for blasting apart the skull of Lung’s cheerful granny. Then she steals Sammo’s 5-year-old daughter and uses virtual reality to brainwash her until she turns into 30-year-old Jennifer Tse. Cut to 1995, and Tse’s Phoenix is a long-in-the-tooth college student who moonlights as Madame Rose’s assassin. She remembers her past, falls out with Madame Rose, etc. The destination is familiar but the journey is unexpectedly delightful. We get Sammo Hung repeatedly punching a kindly tea lady in the face. A woman fights a Japanese boxer while balancing a birthday cake in one hand. No one field-strips a pistol here—they field-strip pistol crossbows. At night. In short shorts. In the rain.
Bloodier and sleazier than Naked Weapon, there’s a lowbrow “Give the animals what they want” mentality at work as the camera ogles bikini-clad breasts and half-naked bodybuilders in G-strings. Corey Yuen, the genius of the Girls with Guns genre, choreographs the action but Tse somehow manages to be an even less convincing screen fighter than Maggie Q. Fortunately, Sammo Hung (who possesses the laidback charm of late-period Gene Kelly) is onboard, along with actual badass martial-arts whirlwind, Jiang Lu-xia, who plays the female half of a pair of flamboyantly gay killers.
Comedy subplots constantly threaten to upend the movie, the costumes look like they came from a discount Halloween supply warehouse, the exteriors are so bland they might as well be green screen, and you get the feeling the filmmakers weren’t interested in making this movie good, merely good enough. Yet somehow the whole thing is a hoot and a half. Sammo delivers plastic-surgery burns on Madame M (“You look like my mom,” he jeers), Anthony Wong shows up as the super-cool Brother Power in the finale, the action is actually fun, and no one seems to be taking any of it seriously.
AND THE WINNER IS…
At the box office, the big winner is clearly Naked Weapon. Thanks to Wong Jing’s marketing campaign and poster art, it wound up making a mint on American home video. It has the best production values of the bunch, the most glistening cinematography, and it stars Maggie Q (who would go on to appear in Mission: Impossible III and star in the television version of La Femme Nikita). But it gets knocked out of the running due to its excruciating English dialogue, its bogus kung fu-isms (“Feel the vibrations… follow the energy…”), and for having an agonizingly long gang rape scene in which none of the rapists winds up getting stabbed in the dick.
That leaves the cheap, crass, and totally out-of-control Naked Soldier vs. the iconic and (relatively) classy Naked Killer. While Naked Soldier is so cheap and tasteless that it oozes a John Waters–esque charm, it also makes lots of concessions to Mainland Chinese censorship, most notably at the ending. As Phoenix is arrested and righteous cops swarm all over the bad guy’s compound, Sam, her cop boyfriend, turns to her like a square and promises to marry her when she gets out of prison, vowing: “I’ll wait for you.”
At the end of Naked Killer, after armies of henchmen have been shot in the face and plenty of crotches have been kicked, Tinam and Kitty exchange a poisoned lipstick kiss, then blow themselves up. Accordion music swells on the soundtrack as clips of their lovemaking play over the fireball. It’s socially irresponsible, romantic as hell, and frankly the only way a movie this super-heated could end.
CONCLUSION: The first, and still the best, is Naked Killer!!!
LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!
… In 2004, cineaste Frédéric Ambroisine interviewed Maggie Q about Naked Weapon. Turns out she hated the gang rape scene, too! She only did the movie because her boss forced her to! She “hated seeing the entire movie onscreen!” Celebrities! They’re just like us!
… Summertime is blockbuster time and last Kaiju Shakedown I talked about the gargantuan South Indian epic, Baahubali: The Beginning. Now it’s come out, and it doesn’t just have the largest film poster of all time, it’s also become the biggest South Indian hit of all time (which is terrifying the rival Bollywood film industry), and the reviews are saying that it’s actually a hell of a lot of fun. Even better, it’s in theaters all over the United States right this minute.
… China’s big new blockbuster, Pancake Man, is a superhero parody film in which a lowly street vendor gets superpowers from pancakes. Jean-Claude Van Damme plays the bad guy. It had a $69 million opening in China, which means that it kicked Ant-Man’s tiny butt, and now it has release dates in Australia, New Zealand, and North America… immediately! You can search here for theaters playing it.
… Another big Asian hit opening in American theaters is Korea’s Assassination, the latest movie from Choi Dong-hoon, the man behind 2012 megahit The Thieves. It just set the record for the highest-grossing opening for a Korean film in 2015 coming in second at this year’s box office only to Avengers II: Ultron Calling. The reviews are excellent and it’s slated for a U.S. theatrical release on August 7.
… Bong Joon-ho’s next movie is likely to be Okja, a follow-up to his smash-hit monster flick, The Host. That much we knew, but in an interview with Collider, Tilda Swinton confirmed that she’ll be working with the director on a project next year. So…
… Another Korean director with a new movie on the horizon is E J-yong (Untold Scandal, Dasepo Naughty Girls) who is already in casting for The Killer Woman. The erotic thriller, about elderly prostitutes who have elderly clients (and sell soft drinks on the side), will be shot in 3-D. The mind reels.