Naked Weapon/Chek Law Dak Gung [pt]
赤裸特工 (chì luŏ tè gōng)
Directed by Ching Siu-tung
Hong Kong, 2002 Colour – 92 min.
Starring Maggie Q [Quigley], Anya Wu An-ya, Daniel Wu [Ng Yin-cho], Jewel Li Fei, Cheng Pei-Pei, Almen Wong Pui-ha, Andrew Lin Hoi, Dennis Chan Kwok-san, Monica Lo Suk-yi
Capa DVD
Madeline Ho (Wong), a.k.a. Madame M, runs a group of elite assassins. When one of her operatives is killed, she recruits and kidnaps dozens of young female teenagers and then trains them for six years, turning them into the most lethal and sexy killers in the world (as M explains, targets are most vulnerable when they are being naughty). The new recruits finally get to work: Charlene (Maggie Q), Katt (Anya) and Ling (Li) work in any city in the world where there is someone with a prize tag on his head. CIA agent Jack Chen (Wu) arrives at Hong Kong on the trail of the “China Dolls” and meets with Charlene's mother, Faye Ching (Chen), hoping that the young woman will try to contact her.

Naked Weapon goes back, both in title and in theme (and even in the promotional posters depicting the actresses on sexy poses) to Naked Killer (1992), by Clarence Ford, starring Chingmy Yau, Simon Yam and Carrie Ng. Also written and produced by Hong Kong's exploitation master Wong Jing, Ford's film tells the story of a young woman seeking revenge who is trained by a professional assassin to kill for her. Without restraining from some eroticism (the restraining was of the actresses themselves; there is more nudity in the title than in the film itself), bad taste (the “hot dog” scene for instance) and graphic violence (a somewhat worrying obsession with the mutilation of male genitals), Naked Killer manages to balance the several ingredients without taking itself too seriously (the “hero” is affected by trauma causing him to puke whenever he pulls his gun but nevertheless still remains in the police force).

Maggie Q Anya Anya Maggie Q
Charlene and Katt during their training saving on the water bill, and before a lethal exercise with her classmates.

This film does not intend to be a sequel or even a remake. It is more of a remix. Dismissing the rivalry between two gangs of assassins or the revenge against abusive men as an explanation for any violent actions, Naked Weapon is concerned only on Charlene and Katherine: they kill people and are beautiful and cool at the same time. Daniel Wu's character provides the inevitable romantic interest and M is the cold relentless boss who becomes ridiculously naïf whenever that is suitable for the script.

Jewell Li
Ching Siu-tung gravity-defying action.
There is also some concern so that violence won't go too far (the film is rated Cat. IIB instead of III, as Naked Killer), with some moments of unconvincing CGI blood spatter. Digital effects are rather non-effective, especially when used in a silly way, as when an actress tears up objects with her hands in mid-air. Action turns out quite dynamic due to the intense use of wires for a series of rather flashy scenes, but the editing shows ridiculous mistakes, cutting from a shot where two opponents fight in the air to another where suddenly they are already with their feet on the ground.

Although we may find the actresses have suffered physically from some quite demanding choreography, it is also difficult to conceal that they have undergone an intensive course on “martial arts for cinema” (for those scenes where stunt doubles could not be used), causing the action to be dominated by the use of wires and slow-motion. More pose than contact.

Nevertheless, the interest in the international market did not protect us from a superfluous violent sex scene; unpleasant for the way it was shot and not for being explicit. This segment presents us the assassins' intensive training, after what we hope to see those lethal weapons in action. It turns out they are the last survivors from an initial group of dozens of candidates. However, Charlene soon reveals herself to be really lame, always crying and requiring Katt's help. The six-year training seems more like six weeks.

Naked Weapon's eroticism is basically models with tight underwear and curtains swaying in the wind. We hardly find anything we can call “erotic” if we don't have characters with the least density whatsoever. In an interview, Maggie Q comments on the fact that Hong Kong actresses (those we are not careering in adult cinema, of course) show too much concern in covering their bodies during intimate scenes and that that is not natural. When you are having sex, you usually do not have any clothes on. Rather obvious, right? She also comments on her shower scene with Anya as being quite bold. Whoever hears her talking like that and later watches the film might feel a little disappointed at the rather timid way nudity is (not) shot (there is a scene where a left nipple peeps out - or was it the right one?). The former mentioned shower scene is quite pathetic, with Anya shyly rubbing soap through Maggie's clavicles, before they share a sisterly embrace. She does not even drop the soap. The film suggests the possibility that they are more-than-friends but it does not even make an effort to withdraw some tension from that idea. That is, even here it tries to come close to Naked Killer but gives up somewhere along the way.

Maggie Q trapped inside an ice-cream truck with Daniel Wu.
Considering the material one could not expect the text and the performances to save the film. Western actors do not fail Hong Kong's tradition of being extremely bad directed (this is not only in Hong Kong, consider for instance Address Unknown by Kim Ki-duk), but Sino-Americans also nag at our nerves. It is not necessarily lack of talent… Or, putting it in another way, an awful text would never allow for other than bad performances.

Naked Weapon might have been turned into a B film, an erotic-gore comedy or something of the kind, but we get the feeling that if there was someone fooling around, that one would be Wong Jing while writing the text, for both the director and the actors (pity them) seem to take everything very seriously. There are those who might think otherwise, that it is all a joke and that the film is quite amusing. Good for them.

An example of an unwillingly hilarious moment is that of the two girls trapped in a room when chased by a dozen men with guns: Katt tries to find a way out and Charlene screams hysterically “it is not worth it!” She might have added, “let it go and die”. At another occasion, when there is no reason at all for them not to run away, we are given one of those “dramatic” moments where one of them says, “no, you go, I'll stay here!” Why she stays there is something we do not quite understand.

Q Anya
Ching does have talent, and he has proved it in genre cinema, in wuxia as Swordsman II (1993) or Duel to the Death»(1982), in the fantasy trilogy A Chinese Ghost Story (1987-1991) or through his work as an action director in films such as The Killer (1989), by John Woo, and Hero (2002), by Zhang Yimou. It is a pity that he decided to dedicate his time to a project that turned out a major blow to the face; on the one hand, it does not please Asian audiences, and on the other, the bad English and the awful dialogue turn it, in the eyes of an Anglo audience, into an erotic thriller made for cable, despite some attention given to martial arts choreography (if one can speak of “martial arts” here).

Available on a Hong Kong DVD (Mega Star, R0). Good quality anamorphic video and (original) English Dolby 5.1 and dts and Cantonese Dolby 5.1 sound tracks. It includes a Chinese-only subtitled but mainly English spoken making-of, plus trailers, photo gallery and the usual film notes and filmographies in text mode.

12 Mar 06
(Original review 19 Jun 03)

Translated by Carla Graça

cinedie asia © copyright Luis Canau.