Hong Kong, 2012, colour, 2.35:1, 92 mins.
Director: Mai Zishan 麦子善 [Marco Mak].
Classy, old-style pulp action is a worthy companion to Naked Killer and Naked Weapon.
1980. Interpol agent Long Zhiqiang (Hong Jinbao) smashes a drugs ring and captures goods worth US$25 million, much to the anger of their owner (Huang Qiusheng), who hires Rose (Chen Yalun) and her assassins to kill Long Zhiqiang’s whole family over Xmas at their home in Florida. Long Zhiqiang narrowly escapes death, and his five-year-old daughter Long Xiaofeng is kidnapped by Rose and brainwashed into believing she is her mother. The girl is given the name Phoenix and trained, along with other kidnapped children, to become a professional assassin. Fifteen year later, overseas Chinese Wang Zhiyong (An Zhijie), who’s been working in the Beijing police force for several years, is assigned to the Hong Kong office of Interpol, where he meets Long Zhiqiang, who’s still searching for his daughter. Wang Zhiyong invites him to join an investigation he’s working on with his colleague Xiaopei (Hong Tianming): five powerful druglords with links to the one Long Zhiqiang smashed 15 years earlier have united to take over the world’s narcotics business and South America’s druglords, worried about the implications, have hired Rose to take care of the problem. Long Zhiqiang agrees, as long as Wang Zhiyong reopens the case on his daughter. Simultaneously, Rose has three of the druglords killed: Jimmy (Alain “The Panther” Ngalani) by Ivy (Lin Jialing) in a Las Vegas jacuzzi, Kato by Selina (Ankie Beilke) in a Tokyo boxing ring, and Iron Wolf (Tang Weijian) by Phoenix (Xie Tingting) at the funeral of his old enemy, Ma, in Taiwan. However, Phoenix leaves a blood trace which is found by the police, and her face is seen by Ma’s widow (Lv Jie), whom Phoenix mistakenly leaves alive. Back at National Taiwan University, where she is posing as student Wen Jing, Phoenix is introduced by her professor (Shi Laiqun) to Wang Zhiyong, who used to study under him. Wang Zhiyong falls for her. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, Long Zhiqiang is dealing with his tomboy adopted daughter, Long Huizhu (Kang Jiaqi), whose school marks are terrible. Wang Zhiyong is shocked when the blood sample’s DNA identifies Iron Wolf’s killer as Wen Jing but doesn’t tell Long Zhiqiang she’s also his daughter Long Xiaofeng. In Hong Kong, Phoenix, after being chastised by Rose for her mistakes, sets out to kill Long Zhiqiang, not realising he’s her father. Meanwhile, the two surviving druglords, gay Dutchman Honey (Ian Powers) and Thai tomboy Tigress (Jiang Luxia), kill Ivy in revenge for Jimmy’s death. After failing to kill Long Zhiqiang, Phoenix find herself hunted by Rose but protected by her training-school colleague Black Dragon (Wu Yunlong), who’s always liked her, much to the jealousy of Selina.
Ten years after Naked Weapon 赤裸特工 (2002) and 20 after Naked Killer 赤裸羔羊 (1992), producer Wang Jing 王晶 [Wong Jing] completes his female-assassins “trilogy” with Naked Soldier 绝色武器 – and, for fans of old-style Hong Kong babes-with-guns movies, this one more than delivers the goods. It lacks the sheer outrageousness of the cult original, and the sheer sexiness of the second outing, but it compensates with loads of action, a much richer plotline (with a large cast of characters), the stabilising presence of a relaxed Hong Jinbao 洪金宝 [Sammo Hung], and classy production values.
Each Naked has reflected the time it was born in, with Killer made at the peak of the Category III boom and Weapon at a time of Asian-Americans making a mark on the industry. With an eye on the lucrative Mainland market, and its stricter censorship, Soldier doesn’t have a trace of the lesbian tease that powered the first two movies nor the extreme violence; in their place, there’s a very busy plot with a large cast of characters and Mainland martial artists (Jiang Luxia 蒋璐霞, Kang Jiaqi 康佳琪, Xin Jingzhu 辛静竹, plus basketball star Chen Xiaolei 陳小磊) alongside the Hong Kong (Hong) and overseas Chinese (An Zhijie 安志杰 [Andy On], Wu Yunlong 伍允龙 [Philip Ng]) action names. There’s also veteran Huang Qiusheng 黄秋生 [Anthony Wong] in a career first fighting Hong, plus Xie Tingting 谢婷婷 [Jennifer Tse] (Bruce Lee My Brother 李小龙, 2010), younger sister of Hong Kong star Xie Tingfeng 谢霆锋 [Nicholas Tse], in her first leading role.
Canadian-raised model Xie, 24, lacks the hotness of previous Naked leads Qiu Shuzhen 邱淑贞 [Chingmy Yau] and Maggie Q, and has a rather cold screen presence; but she handles herself convincingly in the action sequences, especially in her final face-off vs. German-Chinese actress Ankie Beilke. That’s much due to the action direction of Yuan Kui 元奎 [Corey Yuen] – working here with fellow veteran Yuan De 元德 (no relation) – who does his best work since So Close 夕阳天使 (2002). Yuan Kui has a history of making female action stars look good on screen, basically by no concessions to gender, and here the combination of wire-work, stunt doubling and smooth editing is a classic demonstration of what Hong Kong used to do best. Action buffs have to wait 70 minutes for a real female martial artist (turbine-charged Mainland tomboy Jiang, from Coweb 战无双, 2009, and Vampire Warriors 僵尸新战士, 2010) to show up for some un-doubled stuff, but it’s worth the wait, in a multi-character action finale that’s pure late 1980s/early 1990s Hong Kong.
The movie is almost a family affair, with Hong having some on-screen fun with his real-life son Hong Tianming 洪天明 (as a jokey Interpol agent) and off-screen partners Xie and An playing an on-screen couple. That feeling extends behind the camera as well, with longtime editor-turned-director Mai Zishan 麦子善 [Marco Mak], who’s worked many times for producer Wang, producing a quality-looking product that still feels absolutely from the Wang stable, with its mixture of comedy, pulpy action and leaps of belief.
Though the story (anachronistically set in 1995) zips back and forth between Hong Kong and Taiwan, the movie was actually shot in Shenzhen, China. The so-called Naked “trilogy” is linked only by the use of “naked” in the English titles and the theme of a band of female assassins trained by a villainess. The Chinese title of Soldier means “Hot Weapon(s)”.
Presented by Mega-Vision Project Distribution (HK). Produced by See Movie (HK).
Script: Wong Jing. Photography: Miao Jianhui, Zhang Wenbao. Editing: Mai Zishan [Marco Mak], Li Jiarong. Music: Huang Ying-hua [Raymond Wong Ying-wah]. Art direction: Chen Zizhong. Costume design: Yao Zhikang. Sound: Wu Zong. Action direction: Yuan Kui [Corey Yuen]. Action choreography: Yuan De. Visual effects: Bak Hyeon-shin, Bak Yong-jeong (Kinomotive), Mo Haoxin, Cao Zhanneng, Huang Jiale (Big Label Creation).
Cast: Xie Tingting [Jennifer Tse] (Long Xiaofeng/Phoenix/Wen Jing), Hong Jinbao [Sammo Hung] (Long Zhiqiang/CK), Ankie Beilke (Selina), An Zhijie [Andy On] (Wang Zhiyong/Sam), Wu Yunlong [Philip Ng] (Hei Long/Black Dragon), Jiang Luxia (Hu Niang/Tigress), Lin Jialing (Aifei/Ivy), Huang Qiusheng [Anthony Wong] (Jiaming, super druglord), Chen Yalun (Meigui/Rose), Hong Tianming (Xiaopei/Pete, Wang Zhiyong’s sidekick), Kang Jiaqi (Long Huizhu/Crooked Pig, Long Zhiqiang’s adopted daughter), Xue Hongmin (Bai She/White Snake), Ian Powers (Hengli/Honey, Dutch druglord), Alain “The Panther” Ngalani (Jimmy, Las Vegas druglord), Tang Weijian (Tie Lang/Iron Wolf, Taiwan druglord), Lv Jie (Ma’s wife), Xin Jingzhu (Fang, Phoenix’s roommate), Yang Jian (Hua), Shi Laiqun (National Taiwan University professor), Meme Rose (TV newsreader), Paul Bedard (mercenary leader), Pete Larocque (mercenary instructor), René Villeneuve (Long Zhiqiang’s uncle-in-law), Zeng Jiang (female Interpol agent), Chen Xiaolei (basketball player), Kong Yiding (Ma’s son), Li Jinyu (Long Zhiqiang’s mother), Li Yaci (Ma’s daughter), Wang Yong (Long Zhiqiang’s younger brother), Wang Siqin (Long Zhiqiang’s wife), Zhang Chenlin (National Taiwan University librarian).
Release: Hong Kong, 23 Aug 2012.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 6 Aug 2012.)