I am not really sure why, but I thought I would try another set of themed posts. This time however, I thought I would have a look at the work of a much maligned figure in Hong Kong movie history – Producer/Writer/Director/Actor/Presenter Wong Jing. And when I say much maligned, this is not going to be an apology for him. I have seen many films that have been touched by him, and on the whole they have been awful, for all sorts of reasons. However, I am a fair man, and maybe in the next crop of four films, I might be able to find something to enjoy. A masochistic exercise maybe you might say, but at least one of these films was part of my original Asian cinema education. So I will look at that particular Cult Classic next, followed by a Jackie Chan film, and finish up with one of the big releases of 2011. I’ll start though with a film that could nearly have been rather good.
“Naked Weapon” has nothing to do with the international hit (although heaven only knows why) “Naked Killer” (which I will be looking at next time), other than the fact it is about Asian Women becoming Hitmen, with a dash of lesbianism thrown in. Daniel Wu is Jack Chen, a CIA Agent who in his early career encounters the work of the mysterious Madame M (Almen Wong), who seems to run a group of female assassins. When the job goes awry, Madame M kidnaps forty 12 year old girls, each with skills in the Martial Arts, and spends 6 years training them to be her new group of Assassins. Actually, it turns out, she is only after the strongest and fittest of the group, as after the weak have been whittled out, she then puts the last few girls in a battle to the death against each other. For some unknown reason (and we will find this a common phrase in the next few reviews) she calls a halt near the end, suddenly deciding to keep the strongest three – Charlene (Maggie Q), Katherine (Anya Wu) and Jing (Jewel Lee). After an unpleasant introduction into the world of men, she unleashes her assassins onto the world. However, Jack is still on the trail of these “China Dolls”, and manages to track down Charlene via her mother (Cheng Pei-pei). Jack and Charlene get some kind of connection – but can love save the day?
To be fair, the first half of this movie is actually pretty good and really interesting (and that is not surprising considering the pedigree of Director Ching Siu-tung). The opening scene works rather well, actually showing a real “Naked Weapon” in action, and giving us a taste for the ruthlessness of Madame M. The young girls are trained on the Island, and it is all quite interesting, and not without interest and excitement. It then all goes a bit pear shaped. You see, everything stops making any sense, and the story fails to explain anything. It appears that Madame M only has one assassin in play at any one time. So it looks like she has 6 years without any business. That does not seem to be a good business model to me. And then without real explanation, she suddenly settles on keeping three girls, again with no real reason why. This is all mere annoyance, when you are suddenly presented with the girls getting drugged and gang-raped – in order to teach them that their bodies are there to please men. It is horrible, unpleasant and frankly unnecessary. Even putting this aside, you suddenly realise that for six years the girls have been trained like soldiers, and not really assassins at all. You would have thought to have been skilled seductresses, they might have had some training in this too!
The film then pretty much self implodes after this. It just becomes a bit of a mess of nonsensical moments – in short, every scene you can say “why did that happen?” The irony is, that whilst the acting is pretty much awful, that it is directed with a lot of class. The action scenes are fun, if a little stagey, and one particular moment it utterly odd. It is the story that just makes no sense at all. The soundtrack may well be decent, but it was drowned out by my inner voice screaming “why why why” at me incessantly!
It then gets really rushed. Madame Wu is killed offscreen by a villain (Andrew Lin), which again raises more questions than answers. If Madam Wu is really that good, surely she would have done a few background checks? And why is this done offscreen? I would have made for an interesting dramatic moment (although you would have felt no pity for her). The villain then tempts Charlene into confrontation, and kidnaps Katherine. But instead of killing her then, he pumps her full of an Aphrodisiac. Yup, yet another WTF moment, which seems to only serve the need to get Jack and Charlene to have a tryst on the beach, while her best friend/lover is at the mercy of a murderer.
The whole Katherine/Charlene love aspect played down, and basically kicked into touch once Charlene and Jack meet. Six years of closeness thrown away? This is the problem with the whole film – there are some really good ideas and nice touches, but they are always underdeveloped and ignored. To be fair, the coda is quite nice, showing that Jack and Charlene can’t be together, but he is accepting of some parts of the chinese way of life, and she is there like a guardian angel.
To conclude, there is half a decent film here. It is choc-full of some interesting ideas, but the execution lets it down. In fact, the general plot is excellent, and with some work, a really good film could have been made. Yet the film fails at 45 minutes in with a moment of misogynistic cruelty, at which point the whole story progression becomes a total cluster****. The mildest of recommendations here. But I warn you… this marathon gets a lot worse before it gets better.