Naked Weapon Review
Beautiful female assassins who use their body as a weapon, lure in their prey and execute it without hesitation, sound familiar? Hong Kong producer Wong Jing was looking for his next money spinner and chose to do what he does best, retread old ground and capitalise on successful past projects whilst exploiting beautiful young models in the process. The result was Naked Weapon, an exploitation movie attempting to follow in the footsteps of Naked Killer, only that movie was not what you would consider to be a success in Hong Kong so why use it as a springboard for a new project? A good question, but the decision to market Naked Weapon to an international audience, use Western born Chinese actors and shoot the film in English is as good an answer as any. For despite being a relative failure in Hong Kong Naked Killer gained a cult following worldwide and sold well on video due in most part to that poster campaign.
So with that in mind Naked Weapon is a film that was made for all the wrong reasons (more so than most), yet looking at it purely from a concept point of view you can see why it would attract both studio and talent interest. The basic story is that of young homeless girls who are going missing all over the world, only to reappear years later as beautiful young female assassins. As it turns out Madame M (Almen Wong) was behind the kidnappings, a shrewd businesswoman who runs an 'assassin for hire' business that trains its killers from a young age to become lethal killing machines who need only their seductive methods and deadly hands to complete their mission. Okay so the plot is more than slightly ludicrous and owes much to the likes of La Femme Nikita, but is intriguing none-the-less while the promise of beautiful women and a return to the martial arts action of classic Hong Kong cinema meant anticipation was high.
I'm sure by now my tone has already led many of you to believe I disliked this movie, and you would be right. Despite the initial seeds of interest that Naked Weapon manages to sow, it ultimately disappoints due to poor execution, and, well, the fact it is downright awful at times. The first thing you will notice is how the story is riddled with unbelievable plot devices, from Madame M leaving a CIA agent (Daniel Wu) alive in the film’s opening sequence so he can track her down later, to her spending both time and money to kidnap and train 40 girls into viable assassins only to have them fight to the death so just one is the successor. But if there was one prime example of why the story is unable to hold any kind of weight, then it would be the method in which the girls go about their job.
As we are repeatedly informed in the opening act, these assassins are highly trained and more than capable of killing a man with their bare hands, all without making a sound. So why exactly do they feel the need to go around seducing their targets with sultry displays? Now I am not some killjoy who likes to spoil the fun, but if you want to convince your audience there is a valid reason for this approach then you must give them a successful example, but no, the only time we see these girls pull off a flawless hit is when they go in with brute force forgoing the lewd displays. Every other time, when employing their methods of seduction, they make the kind of exit Schwarzenegger's eighties action heroes would be proud of, thus infuriating the viewer by proving the doubts in your head right.
Further problems arise with the scripting, which in turn does little to help the actors making certain performances laughable for all the wrong reasons, while the situations certain dialogue exchanges take place in only make things worse. The main assassins of the piece, Charlene (Maggie Q) and Kat (Anya), show signs of development with an attempt to create a genuine sisterly type bond but due to the nature of the movie any scenes where this is supposed to occur are carried out with them either soaping each other’s bodies, or being face to face under pouring rain, or just generally very wet so it takes any integrity the actors tried to put into the movie and lets it trickle down the drain.
Daniel Wu's CIA agent is the character dealt with the worst lines, constantly questioning his own actions so as to highlight the fact the romantic subplot is thinner than most of the actresses, when we already know that regardless of his incessant rambling. The fact Wu is simply reading his lines with a 'What am I doing here?' look on his face only makes his poorly written character worse as he goes from a bumbling idiot in the opening scene to someone who disappears for nearly half the movie only to return as a conflicted bumbling idiot. Another support character, the mother of Charlene is played by Cheng Pei Pei and to be honest, she really should not have bothered. Not only is her character dealt with the most stilted and clichéd 'concerned mother' dialogue, but her performance is so horrendously over the top it becomes embarrassing to watch, while the almost equally appalling dubbing for her only makes thing worse (though when combined the results are often hilarious to watch!).
This leaves us with the villains, Madame M (Almen Wong) and Ryuichi (Andrew Lin), who despite being dealt with equally ridiculous characters manage to pull it off for they just let themselves go. This in turn suits the writing down to the ground and makes them a pleasure to watch, making it all the more disappointing they get so little screen time in comparison to the other characters.
So what are we left with? From a typical male perspective I would have to say “eye candy”. There is no mistaking it, the gals are gorgeous and a delight to watch (when they are not being mauled by gorillas from muscle beach), plus they kick ass in what proves to be the only redeeming feature, the action. Choreographed by Ching Sui-Tung (who also directs) the action features prominently in both the first and third acts and, for a movie that features just the one genuine martial artist (Jewel Lee) manages to deliver some stunning sequences by modern Hong Kong action standards (which, just in case you wondered, are not very high). Starting out with mostly grounded sequences we are treated to fast, close quarters action that employs both traditional hand to hand and weapon based combat, all shot with a fine visual flair. Gradually the action becomes more and more fantastique until the finale which combines some impressive grounded exchanges with some utterly insane wire-assisted moves, and like the rest of the movie these are shot particularly well so you can sit back and appreciate the visuals rather than concern yourself with the dubious physics behind them.
Sadly the action, though quite memorable, is not likely to go down in the annals of time documenting the very best Hong Kong has to offer which leaves Naked Weapon floundering in its dreadful script. Ultimately though Naked Weapon fails because it is neither a solid action movie nor a solid exploitation piece. Instead it hovers somewhere in between leaving the action to fade out of focus due to the embarrassing plot elements while the exploitation side is never fully embraced and therefore not extreme enough to be even remotely entertaining.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen the transfer seen here is of a very high standard though given this is such a recent film you would expect nothing less. There is not a great deal to be said really, the print sourced is clean and scratch free, colour levels are well balanced while compression is handled admirably with deep solid blacks and natural skin tones coming through particularly well. The only complaint has little to do with the DVD, and instead relates to the low budget of the film and no doubt, the stock used as it lacks the sheen you might expect when watching an American action movie from last year, and is why it does not score top marks.
The original language track for Naked Weapon is English and that is served here in both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 Surround mixes. Listening to the latter you can expect to enjoy a fairly active track that comes alive in the many action sequences. As you might expect surround usage is frequent as are low end effects though to be honest for an action movie it does not pack as much punch as you might expect. The Dolby Digital track is pretty much the same as the DTS, just slightly less defined, either will serve you well so I see little point in arguing the benefits of either format on a film such as this.
Also present on the disc is a Cantonese dub, though given the film’s original language is English you have to ask why Hong Kong Legends would bother including this, yet we are given both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 Cantonese options. The only reason I can see for anyone viewing the film in Cantonese would be to hear Cheng Pei Pei's performance in her native language (which is actually Mandarin), though as her acting is still poor you would have to be a dedicated viewer to even bother.
Optional English Hard of Hearing subtitles are provided for the film. There are however no subtitles on the bonus material with the exception of those features not already in English (in which case English subtitles are present).
On disc one Bey Logan is joined by the film’s leading lady Maggie Q for a mostly scene-specific audio commentary that is up there with his previous collaborations alongside gorgeous Asian women. A technical quibble must however be mentioned that sees most of their conversation out of sync with the onscreen action by around 5-10 seconds. Not much you might say but it does begin to irritate as they talk about something or someone that has already been and gone on your screen. Moving past this fault you will find an honest and genuinely humorous discussion about the film and its genesis, from creative tussles in the scripting process to shooting the action and threatening law suits over the initial Hong Kong DVD cover design. Maggie in particular is very open and forthcoming with stories from the set and criticism for the film and certain individuals involved with its conception. Spurred on by Bey the information is delivered throughout while the pair’s obvious friendship only helps to heighten the light hearted nature and entertainment value on offer.
The only other bonus features on disc one are six promotional trailers for other HKL titles, four promotional trailers for Premier Asia titles and a short Premier Asia Showcase (6:48mins) featurette. For in-depth bonus features you have to put in disc two, on which you will find a range of supplementary material including interviews and behind-the-scenes featurettes that are outlined below.
The Interview Gallery is kicked off by a fairly dull interview with Anya Wu (18:31mins) where she discusses her time working on the movie, highlights certain aspects of the film and expresses a little anger towards the director for cutting a few of her scenes. The villain of the piece Andrew Lin picks up the slack and gives an informative interview (17:56mins) that begins with a look at his unusual career path (Hollywood SFX Artist to Hong Kong movie actor) and then moves into discussion on the film that focuses mainly on the action finale where he praises Maggie Q but offers a few negatives on the wire-assisted action. Almen Wong begins her interview (16:30mins) by discussing the film and how she came on board, but then goes off on a tangent as she begins to talk about the close friendship her and Maggie Q share along with a few humorous stories about their exploits. Rounding out the interview gallery is Monica Lo, who although only having a minor role in the film gives what is probably the most entertaining interview (12:30mins) on the DVD. Bustling with energy she begins by discussing an earlier film role in her career where she worked with Samo Hung, and following some good stories about that experience she goes on to offer up more amusing tales about her time on the set of Naked Weapon. On the whole we have a worthwhile set of interviews though certain stars are notable by their absence (Maggie Q who otherwise contributes much to the disc, and Daniel Wu who contributes nothing) and am I the only one who is plain bored with the number and length of film clips HKL are cutting in to 'punctuate' these interviews?
In the Promotional Archive you will find both UK and Hong Kong Teaser and Theatrical Trailers, the most interesting being the Hong Kong Teaser as this contains specially shot fight sequences not seen in the final cut (and some which are). The Making of Naked Weapon (23:15mins) is your standard promotional featurette that includes behind-the-scenes footage, interviews with the cast and crew who do their best to sell the film and of course, scenes from the finished movie. The last feature in the section is an Animated Photo Gallery (6:05mins) that includes promotional glamour shots of Maggie Q, lobby cards for the film and the poster artwork for the Hong Kong release.
Moving to the Behind-The-Scenes section of the disc we find what is probably the biggest selling point of this DVD (by HKL reckoning anyway) in the A Day In The Life Of Maggie Q Featurette (34:18mins). Doing exactly what it says on the label this featurette sees a camera crew follow Maggie Q around on what is apparently a regular day for her, from practising Chi Gong in the morning, meeting best friend and Naked Weapon co-star Almen Wong for a Yoga session, to receiving a traditional Chinese chi-gong massage in the morning as part of a medical treatment. Maggie then takes a break to walk her pet dogs and chow down on a tasty looking meal in her favourite restaurant, after which she addresses the audience and gives us a brief insight to her career and how it all began. Also on the schedule are a singing lesson (complete with a solo performance for her UK fans), a Wing-Chun lesson and finally a drink with a few fairly uncomfortable looking friends at a bar (with the exception of Bey Logan, who loves the camera). I have to admit I was extremely sceptical about this featurette, the name alone suggests a tabloid style piece but fortunately this is all done with Maggie's permission and she makes for a great host. Very open and obviously fun to be around she not only looks great but has a strong personality ensuring you never get bored.
Another featurette, Candid Camera (19:59mins), strikes a nice balance as it offers behind-the-scenes footage and sequences from the final cut to help showcase the work that went in to this production. Focusing squarely on the action set pieces there is some interesting footage here including an unfortunate incident where Daniel Wu clobbers a poor stunt girl with a kick that was far too low. To bring this featurette to a close HKL throw in something for the boys with a look behind-the-scenes of the early shower sequence. Completing this section of disc two is the Location Guide to Naked Weapon with Bey Logan (9:15mins) featurette. Very similar to that seen on the Project A DVD we see Bey Logan take us around Hong Kong as he visits a few of the locations used in the film. While he is doing this Bey also imparts biographical information on the lead actors, gives some background information on the film and makes some corny jokes in the way only we Brits can. Sadly the non-location specific information all seems slightly lacking and somewhat redundant given the more detailed info you will find elsewhere on the DVD.
Finally we come to the Data Files section of the disc which includes relatively detailed biographies for stars Maggie Q, Anya, Andrew Lin and Daniel Wu.
Despite the negative write-up I have to admit to being fairly entertained the first time I saw Naked Weapon. The girls are beautiful and compared to other recent Hong Kong efforts the action was fresh, and for those looking for a popcorn flick this may well be enough but repeated viewings were a genuine struggle. Once the highlights of the film have been sampled they do little to hide the numerous flaws and despite the short running time I found myself willing this movie to end almost before it had started when sitting down for a repeat viewing before writing this review.
If however you disagree and already know that you like the film then you should be pleased to know the DVD has plenty going for it. Presentation is of a high quality and the bonus features are plentiful, though most of what you will find on the second disc is strictly of the ‘watch once’ variety. What is particularly interesting though is the audio commentary, for even those with a similar opinion of the movie to myself will most likely find what Maggie Q has to say of interest, if only to understand the effort she put in to make Naked Weapon a movie that did not go down the exploitative path of Naked Killer. Though it did lead me to ask: Would Naked Weapon have been better off with less high-profile stars and a full on Category III rating? As that way it might have satisfied one market rather than disappoint the many it attempts to cater for.