January 29, 2003

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Tiger On Beat

Get 'Naked'
By Patrick Macias

FOR ITS ENTIRE first half, Naked Weapon is the greatest Hong Kong exploitation film in many a moon cake. The title alone is a blatant tip-off that producer Wong Jing has finally delivered a worthy follow-up to his 1992 Naked Killer. Meanwhile, director-fight choreographer Tony Ching Siu-Tung throws down an unprecedented mix of Charlie's Angels, The Big Birdcage, and Battle Royale, embellished with the kind of mercurial martial arts that made his Chinese Ghost Story trilogy a modern HK must-see.

Seems that someone is training superdeadly female assassins, and an Interpol agent (San Francisco's own Daniel Wu) is on the case to uncover the mastermind behind these "China Dolls," Madame M (Almen Wong). A flashback takes us to M's lair: a sunny tropical island where abducted young girls, including ex-model Maggie Q and child prodigy kickboxer Anya, are trained in kung-fu, marksmanship, spinal-column severance, and the truly deadly arts of lipstick application and lap dancing. After Madame M calmly instructs the girls to fight one another to the death in an epic steel cage brawl until only the most ruthless remain, Q and Anya are released into the "real world" to seduce and snuff out the likes of coke-snorting goombas and umbrella-wielding midgets.

As a trash film in miniature, Weapon's first act is a masterpiece, and not in a purely moronic T&A sleaze-encrusted sense (although that can be fun too). While the script and acting are atrocious throughout, Ching plays the material dead straight, resulting in pure pulp poetry that will routinely astonish your moral sense and drop your jaw. One can only hope Quentin Tarantino's gourmet exploitation flick Kill Bill, due later this year, will be half as brave.

Sadly, one might as well hit the stop button at the 45-minute mark, whereupon Wu and Q begin making goo-goo eyes at each other and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's Cheng Pei-Pei shows up to slow things down by playing "long-lost mom in peril." While the joys of heterosexuality and family are affirmed, a major opportunity is missed by not following up on a proper Naked Killer-strength romance between Q and Anya. All the same, the first half is a keeper, and there's no excuse for not going down to Chinatown and picking up a Naked Weapon DVD or VCD. (Gift Entertainment at 724 Jackson has it, cheap.) Go inside, hold your head up high, and loudly ask for it by name.

Patrick Macias is the author of TokyoScope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion.