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Plot: lesbian hitwomen face off against each other. A cop is caught in the crossfire.

If there’s one aspect in which Jing Wong always delivers it’s in selecting the most beautiful women for his various projects. The man simply has an eye for upcoming talent even if his projects tend to vary wildly in both quality and writing. Naked Soldier has no shortage of gun-toting babes with eccentric haircuts and extravagant, semi-futuristic wardrobes but is marred to no end by a formulaic, and frankly horrible, screenplay. For the most part Naked Soldier continues the franchise’s downward spiral by modeling itself more after the slick Naked Weapon (2002) than after the nearly psychotronic original that was Naked Killer (1992). Naked Killer (1992) had both borderline decadent pop-art style as well as Chingmy Yau in her prime. Naked Soldier was specifically designed for the more demure Mainland China market and Wong’s once-per-decade journey into the world of lesbian hitwomen and international criminal cartels has proven to be one of continuing diminishing returns. Chingmy Yau became a domestic superstar thanks to Wong, Maggie Q made it big in Hollywood… and Jenn Tse apparently went nowhere, staying a model celebrity in her own right – but little else.

Naked Soldier is the degeneration of the promise that Naked Killer (1992) manifested some two decades prior. This is by far the slickest, most futuristic-looking – and thus, most flatly uninteresting - of the triptych. Where Naked Soldier probably succeeds the most, defying odds and expectations if the prior installments are anything to go by, is the action choreography and direction. Corey Yuen Kwai and Yuen Tak went all out and Naked Soldier has some of the wildest, most acrobatic stuntwork and fighting routines the franchise has had so far. Even elder statesman of the genre Sammo Hung Kam-Bo is given every opportunity to show off his impressive skills. At 60 Hung is able to hold his own against and frequently surpass martial artists half his age. Obviously his time in company of Hong Kong icons Bruce Lee, Yuen Biao, Angela Mao, Jackie Chan and Jet Li has paid off. On the plus side, this being a production designed for the Mainland China market Wong’s more annoying tendencies are reined in accordingly.

The Naked Soldier herself is Hong Kong-born, Vancouver-raised model-turned-actress Jennifer Tse Ting-Ting (謝婷婷), a slender framed belle in the Maggie Q mold. Tse is the daughter of Hong Kong cinema mogul Patrick Tse Yin and actress Dik Boh-Laai and the younger sister of award-winning actor and pop singer Nicholas Tse Ting-Fung. Besides being a model for various companies and brands Jennifer holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of British Columbia. Tse rose to prominence with the Manfred Wong Man-Chun biopic Bruce Lee, My Brother (2010), adapted from the Robert Lee novel chronicling Lee’s early years before international superstardom. That she would enter Jing Wong’s orbit seemed inevitable. Tse isn’t the next great Girls With Guns sensation to follow in the footsteps of Michelle Yeoh, Angela Mao, Moon Lee, Cynthia Khan or Yukari Oshima. After her tenure with Wong, Tse appeared in the costume epic Biography Of Buddha (2013) and Knock Knock! Who’s There? (2015). Her career seems to have stalled after The Recruit (2017), a Hong Kong short feature take on Roger Donaldson’s action-thriller The Recruit (2003) with Colin Farrell and Al Pacino.

While not entirely without merit Naked Soldier is as far from the nearly psychotronic pop-art excesses and nearly comic book violence of Naked Killer (1992) and the subdued sexiness of Naked Weapon (2002) as you’re likely to get. The story stitches together disparate elements from the prior two installments into a vaguely familiar recombinant. The concept of sexy rivaling hitwomen facing off against each other from Naked Killer (1992) remains the basis while the missing relative subplot from as well as members of law enforcement acting as point of view characters were refurbished wholesale from Naked Weapon (2002). The Naked franchise never recuperated from the loss of Chingmy Yau. Naked Soldier is conscious of the fact and is modeled more after Naked Weapon than after the original. The wardrobe and hairstyles are all on the extravagant side almost resembling Future Cops (1993) instead of Wong’s more grounded works. Naked Soldier amassed a meager HK$500,000 at the box office during opening week signaling clear audience fatigue. Keeping in mind the way Wong has been revisiting his flagship action franchise once per decade, the next chapter in the series is likely to arrive in 2022. Perhaps now is the time to return to the often neglected Category III beginnings to give the franchise a second lease on life?

In 1980 Interpol agent Lung Chi-keung (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo) is able to foil a grand-scale narcotics trafficking operation with an estimated worth of 35 million dollars. In retribution the cartel orders a hit on him and his family in their Florida home. A group of assassins swiftly swarm the house leaving much of Lung’s family bloodily killed with the agent sustaining heavy injuries and unable to stop the kidnapping of his youngest daughter Wen Jin. Lung Chi-keung is able to escape the onslaught and barely has fled the premises before his house is razed to the ground through an explosion. The agent is brought to the hospital to recover. With the young girl in tow Madame Rose (Ellen Chan Nga-Lun) and what is left of her unit disappear into the night. Back in her hidden headquarters Madame Rose wipes Wen-ching’s memory of her former identity and subjects her to extreme conditioning and training to become one of her prized operatives. Lung Chi-keung meanwhile vows to find his abducted daughter and makes Madame Rose the prime subject of all his investigations from that point onward.

Fifteen years later, in 1995, Lung is requested to lend his expertise as a consultant on an ongoing investigation into an international drug cartel. Lung partners up with senior inspector Sam Wong (Andy On Chi-Kit) and Pete (Timmy Hung Tin-Ming). On the home front Lung has his hands full with his tomboy adoptive daughter Lung Wai-chu (Kang Jia-Qi). Madame Rose orders a hit on 4 important players - Tigress (Jiang Lu-Xia), Honey (Ian Powers), Iron Wolf (Wilson Tong Wai-Shing) and Jimmy (Alain Ngalani) –that are part of an international drug ring of kingpin Power (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang). Madame Rose sends out her top assassins with Ivy (Lena Lam Kai-Ling), Selina (Ankie Beilke) and Phoenix (Jennifer Tse Ting-Ting, as Jenn Tse). The operation goes as planned only Phoenix has problems complying with her conditioning and leaves vital evidence on the scene. Ordered to assassinate Lung latent memories of her former identity start to come to surface and Phoenix has difficulty following the instructions she’s given. Black Dragon (Philip Ng Wan-Lung), a fellow trainee with a deep unrequited love for her, remains on her side for protection. What Sam Wong doesn’t realize is that the promising criminology student he met at the University of Taiwan is in fact Phoenix. Things take a turn of the complicated when Sam starts to develop feelings for Phoenix’ civilian student cover identity and when evidence confirms that she’s indeed Lung Chi-keung’s long-lost daughter. Can Phoenix withstand the goon squad Madame Rose has sent to kill her and become the Naked Soldier?

Why Wong insists on the 1980s prolog and the jump to 1995 for the main portion of the feature is anyone’s guess. Neither of the two decades are faithfully recreated. Besides the presence of an old VHS tape there’s nothing to place it in the decade it insists on allegedly being set in. The nineties portion doesn’t fare any better. The music and fashion is wrong and the technology featured is too advanced for the decade it is supposedly set in. There’s absolutely no excuse why the main portion couldn’t have been set in the then-present of 2012. References to popular culture are minimal and fairly inobtrusive. The most visible among these are Phoenix waking up in a green-red Freddy Krueger shirt and Ivy’s slaying of druglord Jimmy imitating the internal view of the 2011 Mortal Kombat video game with arteries rupturing and bones breaking. Naked Soldier relies heavily on CGI and as with most Mainland China productions it’s more of a hindrance than a help. Thankfully there’s plenty of action and the martial arts routines are probably the best of the series thus far. If only Jing Wong spent as much time on the screenplay as Corey Yuen Kwai did on the choreographing the action sequences.

There’s no shortage of gun-toting babes with eccentric haircuts and extravagant wardrobes. Naked Soldier never turns up the heat the way Naked Killer (1992) did and the only scene to have any kind of erotic charge is where Lena Lam Kai-Ling changes before the mirror. Ellen Chan Nga-Lun and Ankie Beilke are the usual eye-candy we’ve come to expect from Jing Wong. Maggie Q made Naked Weapon (2002) her own, something which Jenn Tse fails to do with Naked Soldier. Not that Tse is a bad actress per se or doesn’t know how to handle herself during an action scene. Compared to Chingmy Yau and Maggie Q she’s the least remarkable of the franchise thus far. Since 2002 nudity has become something of a rarity in the Naked series and Naked Soldier is completely free of it altogether. In part due to this being a production designed specifically for the Mainland China market and actresses not wanting to limit their career options. Here’s hoping that Frieda Hu Meng-Yuan (胡梦媛), Mavis Pan Shuang-Shuang (潘霜霜), Lavina Chung Wai-Chi (鍾蕙芝), Miki Zhang Yi-Gui (张已桂), or Yang Ke (杨可) will be selected to revive the stagnating Naked franchise.

Compared to Naked Killer (1992) and Naked Weapon (2002) the third installment is rather tame. Like Naked Weapon before it, it is more of a conventional action movie with only the name remaining from what the series started as. Twenty years after Chingmy Yau we get the indistinct Jenn Tse. Hopefully the next episode with return the franchise to its former glory with a brand new star. There are more than enough potential candidates to choose from for a proposed fourth Naked production. Jing Wong never disappoints in his choice of female talent and no franchise needs more lifesblood than the Naked series. If Wong wants to keep this series relevant he desperately needs a starlet to keep young audiences interested. Naked Soldier is tolerable enough for what it is, but it never sets its goals particularly high to begin with. There’s a market for tough-as-nails action with a strong female lead. Naked Soldier is NOT it

Plot: did it all truly happen, or is it merely in Lena’s head?

The best thing you can say in retrospect about Christina Lindberg is that she knew exactly where her strengths lie. Lindberg was a nude model first and she never got a hang of acting no matter how hard she tried. There’s no such thing as a quintessential Christina Lindberg movie for a reason, and probably the best thing she did was the deeply cynical Rötmånad (1970) (where she had an absolute minimum of dialogue) and Exponerad (or Exposed - released in Norway as Sommeren med Lena, no doubt to sucker in the unsuspecting Ingmar Bergman fan, and in the US as The Depraved) followed closely by Anita Swedish Nymphet (1973). Maid In Sweden (1971), often passed off by unscrupulous distributors as an innocuous coming of age drama, pointed exactly to where Lindberg’s career was headed from that point onward. For a few years Christina was a softcore superstar before the advent of hardcore pornography forced her out of the business and into a career in journalism. Decades later Lindberg still can’t escape the looming shadow of the infamous rape revenge caper Thriller – A Cruel Picture (1973). Widely hailed as Lindberg’s most artistic feature Exponerad has shades of Czechoslovakian coming of age fairytale Valerie and Her Week Of Wonders (1970) but it never quite has such lofty aspirations. Gloria Guida might have had The Minor (1974) and Christina had this, but Jaroslava Schallerová got there first.

An image, or reputation, for good or ill, is hard to shake. In the span of just a few years miss Lindberg had worked with Dan Wolman, Gustav Wiklund, Torgny Wickman, Ernst Hofbauer, Walter Boos, and Joe Sarno. Some of whom she would work with on multiple occasions. In doing so she had, perhaps unwittingly, reduced her chances of finding work outside of what she was doing already – and most of the projects she was offered fared accordingly. That isn’t to say that Christina Lindberg was some misunderstood talent, and her expressionless, glassy-eyed style can best be compared to Zora Kerova, Sabrina Siani, or Christina’s Norwegian equivalent and one-time black metal starlet Monica Bråten. Typecast from Rötmånad (1970) onwards Lindberg was an international star who worked in Germany, Hong Kong, and Japan. The majority of that international work seemed to encompass the two years from 1972-74 when she wasn’t working at home. In that capacity she appeared in Girls Who Come to Munich (1972), Schoolgirl Report 4 (1972), Secrets of Sweet Sixteen (1973), Love In Three Dimensions (1973), and Schoolgirl Report 7 (1974).

Lena Svensson (Christina Lindberg) is a seventeen-year-old promiscuous libertine at the height of her sexuality who, to escape her dull lovelife with Jan (Björn Addely), takes flights of fancy in all sorts of sordid scenarios. When things get boring she likes to imagine herself getting abused, molested, and/or killed in a fiery road collision. Lena has cheated on Jan, and he sends her out a retreat where she encounters naturist vacationers Lars (Janna Carlsson) and Ulla (Birgitta Molin). The trio engages in the usual skinnydipping, sunbathing, and nude frolicking until Jan comes to collect Lena. It is then that the lecherous Helge (Heinz Hopf) comes into the picture. Helge coerces Lena into partaking in hedonistic sex parties and extorts her with nude photographs. Life with Jan is safe and comfortable, but the underworld that Helge shows her has so much to offer too. With Helge Lena experiences pleasures she never had before. She gets felt up, tied up, and exposed in about every way. Compared to him Jan is a tremendous bore. At some point Lena is going to have to make a choice. Is the predatory Helge The Depraved of the American distribution title? Is it Lena who looks for each and every opportunity to escape her rural and boring country life - or both? The question Exponerad asks is, “did it all truly happen, or is it merely in Lena’s head?

That Sweden’s most famous anime sex doll would try to establish a footing in the Far East was all but a given. However, since she didn’t speak the language and/or possessed any martial arts skills she didn’t get any farther than the Eurospy romp Adventure in Denmark (1973) from Hong Kong, and Sex and Fury (1973) and The Kyoto Connection (1973) in Japan. By the time of One-Week Bachelors (1982) she was made redundant, and her career fizzled out. In hindsight it’s a tad difficult to believe that Christina never found work in Italy (Renato Polselli and Luigi Batzella would’ve loved her giant bust) or in the burgeoning Cine-S movement in Spain (Ignacio F. Iquino would have put her to good use), as would have José Ramón Larraz in his horrors. Likewise it’s a bit disconcerting that Tinto Brass never took notice of her voluminous behind, and it’s quite unfair that Christina Lindberg didn’t become a minor Eurcult royalty the way Evelyne Kraft, Janet Ågren, Marie Liljedahl, and Leena Skoog did. To her credit Christina had a habit of appearing in films with people that ostensibly would become more famous than her, whether they were Stellan Skarsgård or Lena Olin. In 1971 miss Lindberg had just started her conquest of Scandinavian sexploitation scene, and Exponerad does more than just showcase her voluptuous naked form, although there’s plenty of that too. No. Exponerad is actually pretty creative when it tries.

For all that can be said about Gloria Guida’s tour de force in bawdy Italian sex comedies at least half of them were actually pretty lighthearted and entertaining. Lindberg’s on the other hand were depressing for the most part. Anita Swedish Nymphet (1973) is downbeat and cynical compared to something as casually sexist and lovingly exploitative as Blue Jeans (1975) (Mario Imperoli’s ode to Gloria Guida’s perfectly shaped ass bordered on the poetic, lest we forget), Maid In Sweden (1971) has a nihilistic mean streak that you wouldn’t find in Monika (1974) or even So Young, So Lovely, So Vicious… (1975). It even goes as far as to recycle an entire 5 minute sequence from Tarzan Triumphs (1943) with Johnny Weissmuller in one scene. To go from the whimsical Rötmånad (1970) to Thriller – A Cruel Picture (1973), a take on Turkish thriller Karate Girl (1973), in just three years is…. something. And none of it is any good. Exponerad on the other hand displays a sense of creativity and playfulness otherwise absent in Lindberg’s filmography up to that point. The Minor (1974) does what Exponerad does in a far more lighthearted manner, and it never has the ick factor. Be that as it may, at least Exponerad attempts - however marginally and futilely - to do something, anything, different to provide la Lindberg with whatever minimal chance to act.

As legend has it, Exponerad premiered at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival in France where it was almost immediately banned in 27 countries. Promoters eagerly used said ban to sell Exponerad on the international market, and Gustav Wiklund was offered a lucrative contract to work under American exploitation mogul Roger Corman. An offer which he, inexplicably and for largely opaque reasons, apparently declined. Understandably Wiklund soon to came to regret his decision, and Lindberg’s career in America was largely built around her appeal as a delectable Scandinavian import. And what projects Christina chose to star in didn’t exactly help either. It’s one thing to star in coming of age dramas as Maid In Sweden (1971) and Anita Swedish Nymphet (1973), but to go from Exponerad and something as comically innocuous as Love In Three Dimensions (1973) to Thriller – A Cruel Picture (1973), and Wide Open (1974) speaks volumes of where the heads of Lindberg’s handlers/publicists were at the time. It’s tragic enough that after One-Week Bachelors (1982) Christina disappeared from the silver screen for about two decades. Since 2000 she has acted sporadically but it looks as if Sweden’s most popular export will forever be relegated to obscurity. Not even Quentin Tarantino (who never hid his adoration for Lindberg’s tenure in exploitation) apparently was able to legitimize the Swedish star into the mainstream.