Skip to content

Plot: lesbian hitwomen face enemies and each other. A cop is caught in the crossfire.

Hong Kong exploitation producer-director-screenwriter and master philistine Jing Wong was never below milking a concept until it was completely dried out. Thus was born the Naked trilogy, a collection of three loosely related HK action movies starring the most beautiful women of the decade they were produced in. Naked Killer (1992), the first of the series, was a valentine to Wong’s long-time mistress/muse Chingmy Yau, and a Category III sub-classic of some repute. Ten years later Maggie Q showed off her acrobatic skills (and, sadly, not much else) in the slick, sexy action romp Naked Weapon (2002). Finally, model-turned-actress Jennifer Tse was Wong’s latest discovery for the milder Mainland China market feature Naked Soldier (2012). Not that everything Wong produces is necessarily an indication of quality or good filmmaking. Her Name Is Cat (1998) with Almen Pui-Ha Wong, the last time Wong re-visited this particular plot, should be indicative of that. Naked Weapon has an abundance of style but precious little substance.

Naked Weapon was the first large-scale production for former Honolulu, Hawaii model Maggie Q. After doing modeling work in Tokyo and Taipei Q headed to Hong Kong where she caught the attention of stuntman/actor, and producer Jackie Chan. Not only for her dazzling appearance but for her potential to become an action star. Q had no formal martial arts training whatsoever but threw herself into an intensive training regimen that paid off in a bit part in Rush Hour 2 (2001). A year later Q found herself back in Hong Kong working with Jing Wong but Maggie would soon be conquering Hollywood with Mission: Impossible III (2007) and the surprisingly solid Live Free and Die Hard (2007). Like Chingmy Yau a decade before in Naked Killer (1992), there’s fair amount of flesh on display but like in its predecessor it rarely involves its name-star Q and what exposed skin does appear stays on the prude end of the spectrum. It’s all shockingly demure. What it does have in abundance is slow-motion and soft focus shots from the finer anatomical points of lead actresses Q, Anya Wu, and Li Fei while doing sexy poses and looking pretty.

High-ranking and internationally wanted criminal kingpin Madeline Ho, only known to the world as Madam M (Almen Pui-Ha Wong), is the head of an assassination agency simply known as Naked Weapon that employs operatives known as China Dolls. When a botched mission forces M to kill her prized asset Fiona Birch (Marit Thoresen) the incident and the collateral damage that results from it draws the attention of CIA agent Jack Chen (Daniel Wu Yin-Cho). Forced to enlist new recruits in the wake of her most important asset being put out of commission M  kidnaps forty pre-teen girls all over Asia. The girls are subjected to an exceptionally brutal and Darwinist training program that will leave only three of their number alive. As the program and training draws to a close after 6 years only Charlene Ching (Maggie Q), Katherine or Katt (Anya Wu, as Anya) and the mentally very unhinged Jing (Li Fei, as Jewel Lee) remain. Now that Madam M has found her China Dolls they are ordered to assassinate a certain VIP (Johnnie Guy) at the prestigious Duanwu Festival, or the International Dragon Boat Festival, in Hong Kong.

It is here that Chen catches a glimpse of Charlene, who has catched a glimpse of her devout mother Faye (Cheng Pei-pei). As Chen connects the spate of disappearances of young girls across Asia, the sudden re-appearance of recluse criminal mastermind Madam M and the string of seemingly random murders of the local underworld he find himself knee-deep in a dangerous cat-and-mouse game. Madam M gives Charlene and Katt a final mission in which they must assassinate yakuza boss Ryuichi (Andrew Lin Hoi), a contract that will earn them their freedom if they can complete it. When Ryuichi kidnaps, tortures and eventually kills Katt, Charlene departs on a lone mission of vengeance. In the end Jack is unable to reunite Charlene with her mother, but he realizes that Charlene will always be just beyond his grasp, that she will always be with him, but never can be with him…

No Jing Wong production is complete without a bevy of beautiful women and Naked Weapon has no shortage of them. Maggie Q, Anya Wu and Li Fei are the obvious draw, yet Almen Pui-Ha Wong and Marit Thoresen aren’t too far behind. For Almen Pui-Ha Wong is was the second foray into territory she already explored with the thematically similar Her Name Is Cat (1998). Cheng Pei-pei was the martial arts star of the sixties and a veritable monument of Hong Kong cinema now at retirement age. Naked Weapon is one of the better offerings from Wong’s late 1990s-early 2000s slump, although it never sets its goals particularly high to begin with. Those hoping to get a glimpse of Q in the buff will be sorely disappointed as none of the ladies will be shedding any fabric. Wong’s signature pose from Naked Killer (1992) (crossing one arm covering the chest) will not be making an appearance. Likewise are the rampant lesbianism and sapphic liaisons that formed the pulsating heart of Naked Killer nowhere to be found in this iteration. In fact outside of a cop and a team of hitwomen there isn’t much to connect Naked Weapon to the relatively more risqué Naked Killer. On the plus side is that much of the crass humor that has come to characterize Wong’s filmography is thankfully absent as well. As far as slick, kenetic action goes there’s far worse out there than Naked Weapon, but the movie would’ve been relegated to obscurity if it weren’t for Maggie Q’s rise to relative stardom a few years after this had been released.

In comparison to Naked Killer (1992) from a decade prior Naked Weapon is surprisingly prudish. It’s practically free of Wong’s more annoying tendencies and puerile humor and what nudity appears is of the PG-13 variety. It contains but a scant few references to popular culture and other movies. The assassination at the Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Festival was a scene lifted directly from John Woo’s The Killer (1989) with Chow Yun-Fat. The service room sledgehammer escape scene was borrowed from Luc Besson’s Léon (1994) with Jean Reno, Natalie Portman and Gary Oldman and finally the entire China Doll training/selection vignette condenses Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale (2000) down to a snack-sized segment. The final battle between Charlene and Ryuichi is an obvious riff on the wire-fu duels in the Wachowskis’ The Matrix (1999). Rather typical for a movie directed by an action choreographer (or two, as is the case here) the story in Naked Weapon never gets in the way of the action, of which there is plenty.

What’s supposed to pass for a plot is so minimal and perfunctory it might as well not be there at all. Naked Weapon is first and foremost a showcase for Q, Anya Wu, and Li Fei with the occassional melee/fist – or firefight thrown in for good measure. Apparently Maggie Q fought Wong tooth and nail to excise any gratuitous nudity and to portray the China Dolls and their interpersonal relationships in a more loving light. Wong is known for a lot of things but good writing was never his strong suit, let alone portraying characters that are relatable. At one point an American script doctor was brought in to rewrite the screenplay into something resembling coherence. Obviously Naked Weapon isn’t Wong’s finest hour. It exists largely on the grace of its leading ladies and the role of 1960s martial arts superstar Cheng Pei-pei as Charlene’s devout long-lost mother. It’s slick, it’s flashy and the action scenes are fast-moving – but the writing is pretty terrible on most fronts.

After Rush Hour 2 (2001) a Jing Wong production wasn’t exactly a step up for Q but it certainly wasn’t a step down either. Cheng Pei-pei however was in Ang Lee’s celebrated period costume wuxia Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) with Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh just two years before. If there’s anything to say about Naked Weapon it’s that it’s functional and perfunctory in all the right ways. Jing Wong was never about sophistication and Naked Weapon isn’t out to rock the boat or alter his well-worn mass audience formula. It’s slick, it’s sexy and there’s plenty of action and explosions for fans of the genre. Maggie Q has since gone on to bigger and better things and seems to have it made in Hollywood. For the better too because Q is too much of a talent to waste it on a philistine entertainer like Jing Wong. Perhaps Naked Weapon would have been better had Wong been in the director’s seat, but Wong at the helm is never a guarantee for better quality. After all his God Of Gamblers (1989) and God of Gamblers Return (1994) are more the exception than the rule. That Q fought Wong during the production of Naked Weapon probably explains why they never worked together again. Q after all was well above the lowest common denominator swill that Wong specializes in. Naked Weapon is a lot of things but it’s hardly mandatory HK action cinema. Maggie Q made far better movies once she transcended Jing Wong.

Plot: young girl dabbles in black magic and summons an evil spirit

P was no doubt helmed in response to Ringu (1998), and Danny and Oxide Pang’s underappreciated The Eye (2002). P picks up where the Pang brothers left off in 2002 and is historic for being the first Thai-language film to be helmed by a Westener. The Westener in question is British expatriate Paul Spurrier and P has the good fortune of having Suangporn Jaturaphut (who would never act again) as the leading lady. The horror in P is peripheral and subordinate to the human interest, but that doesn’t make P any less effective when it fires on all of its cylinders. As a modest little genre piece P assuredly maintains Thailand’s place in the horror pantheon. More often a gritty and bleak drama about sex tourism and the criminal underworld surrounding it P is atmospheric and frightening when and where it matters. Thailand might not be able to compete with Hong Kong, China and Japan in terms of sheer numbers but P might just be strong enough to help turn the tide. No new promise has risen to take the Pang brothers’ place in domestic fright cinema but Spurrier might just be the guy.

Paul Spurrier had his start in cinema like many a young filmmaker: by taking to the streets and shooting his own feature with a bunch of enthusiastic friends. The result of that was Underground (1998), a gritty crime drama about drugdealers in London. Spurrier had acted as a child in the British-Swiss war epic The Wild Geese (1978) and at some point at the dawn of the millennium relocated to Thailand. Naturally a filmmaker is going to dabble in horror early on his or her career and what better place to mine for local folklore and superstition than Asia? Since P was only Spurrier’s second feature the most cost-efficient would be to do a ghost movie. Hong Kong, Japan, and China have set many a precedent of ghost stories within in an everyday, metropolitan setting. Instead of Hong Kong or Beijing P is set in the neon-drenched sidewalks of Bangkok. Perhaps not as much of an indictment of sex tourism as we would like it is a lot stronger than much coming out of China. Not only because P actually manages to be frightening every once in a whlie, mostly because the sobering reality surrounding the supernatural tale at its center is as horrific, if not moreso, than its titular ghost.

Just like in China ghosts are part of everyday life in Thailand. Most of them come from a combination of Thai Buddhism and local folklore legends. Some of these came from the neighboring Cambodian, Lao, and Malay cultures. Others were adopted later through the Chinese community in Thailand. Interestingly, a large portion of ghosts from Thai folklore tend to be nocturnal, a few exceptions notwithstanding. Most ghosts in Thai culture are benevolent and many have built shrines in specific places exactly for that reason. Offerings (usually incense, small food items, drinks, or fruit) are made to appease the spirits and ghosts for good fortune and it’s considered an ill omen to neglect a ghost shrine. In Dan Sai, Loei Province a three-day event called Phi Ta Khon (ผีตาโขน or Bun Luang) is held annually, usually between March and July, to honor the spirits. The most recognizable to Western eyes is the Phi Song Nang (ผีสองนาง), a Thai version of the Chinese Nü gui or the ghost of a beautiful woman that lures, seduces and then kills hapless men. The titular P refers to Pee or Pii (ผี), the Thai word for ghost. The Pii here is the Phi pop (ผีปอบ), a cannibalistic witch spirit popular in Thai folklore that tends leaves the witch’s body when she’s in a dormant state to feed on the intestines of whoever she victimizes. To Western eyes the Phi pop comes across as a combination of the vengeful ghost (onryō) from Japan and the shape-shifting fox spirit (húli jīng) with its carnivorous proclivities popular in Chinese folklore and superstition.

In Lower Isan in the northeastern region of Thailand in Si Saket province lives a young orphan Khmer girl named Aaw (Suangporn Jaturaphut) with her ailing, superstitious grandmother (Pisamai Pakdeevijit). To protect herself grandmother has initiated Aaw in the ways of Khmer black magic. All she has to do is obey the three sacred rules. No longer able to treat grandmother’s deterioriating health with the medicine she’s able to procure in her peasant village in the valley of the Mun River on the border with Cambodia Aaw is forced to seek employment in Bangkok. In Bangkok Aaw is picked up by Pookie (Opal) and before long harsh reality sets in. She’ll be working as a go-go dancer in the Pbar where she’ll be servicing foreign clients. Before that Mamasang (Manthana Wannarod) changes her name to Dau and she will broken into her new employment by bar owner Martin (Paul Spurrier). A bitter rivalry develops between Dau and club favorite May (Narisara Sairatanee) with the latter’s accomplices Mee (Amy Siriya) and New (Supatra Roongsawang) trying to sabotage her at every turn. In her darkest hour Dau turns to her grandmother’s black magic to help turn her fortune. As she sinks deeper into destitution and prostitution Dau breaks the three sacred rules one by one. Will anybody be able to stop the evil that Dau has summoned?

It would be something of a misnomer to call P an exploitation movie as it never is very exploitative to begin with. Even though it concerns itself with sex tourism, prostitution, and go-go dancers everything in P stays within the realms of the respectable. The most risqué, if it can be called that, is the sapphic tryst between Aaw/Dau and Pookie – but P goes well out of its way not to make a thing out of it. The go-go dancing sequences are usually sexier than the implied prostitution scenes that precede a kill. Where P really shines is in the ways it finds to creatively kill Johns on a limited budget. First and foremost P is a human interest drama and the supernatural – and horror elements are tangential and secondary to that. When P does focus on the horror it follows the conventions of the ghost horror subgenre without ever rocking the boat. Where it really gets interesting is how it treats the exorcism scene. Instead of a typical exorcism the purging of Dau’s demon bears more of a resemblance to a drugs withdrawal scene. Far more troubling is that P isn’t really all that interested in offering social commentary on the political machinations behind the circumstances in which it forces its lead character. Spurrier acknowledges that sex tourism and coerced prostitution do exist, but seems to be in no apparent hurry to make or take a stance either way. P is a horror where the unflinchingly bleak picture of modern day Bangkok is often more frightening, especially when the neon signs come on, than the ghost at its center.

Greatly adding to the mystique of P is a tour de force performance of Suangporn Jaturaphut. That Aaw/Dau mirrors Jaturaphut’s own life experiences so closely greatly adds to the authenticity of P. Suangporn also grew up under-privileged and disenfranchised in the slums of Bangkok and only took to acting as a means to pay for her ill mother’s mounting medical expenses. Her mother saw to it that she went to school and got herself an education as to not fall into the ever-looming threat of prostitution. In the decade-plus since P Suangporn has enrolled in Assumption University and eventually received her B.A. in Chinese for Business. Little is known what became of Jaturaphut post-B.A. but it’s safe to assume that she simply disappeared in the anonomity of everyday civilian life. She appears to not have disavowed her involvement in P in the years since but it’s unlikely that we will ever see Suangporn on the big screen again. Director Paul Spurrier has since worked as a cinematographer on the television series Edge of the Empire (2010), helmed his third feature The Forest (2016) and the television series Eullenia (2018-present). In other words, Spurrier has naturally become part of the Thai cinematic landscape.

Thailand has long been the mecca of cheap action and in the last couple of years has been making a comeback in terms of horror. While not as visible as China, Hong Kong, and Japan since the 2000s the country is steady on the rise again. P was unlike, say, the preceding year’s The Sisters (2004) not nearly as blatantly imitative of Ringu (1998), Ju-on: The Grudge (2002), and South Korea’s A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003). While ghost movies like Shutter (2004) and the Art Of the Devil (2004-2008) franchise are staples in Thai, it’s movies like Meat Grinder (2009) that prove that Thailand has come a long way since Universal monster romps The Wolf Girl (1977) and Werewolf (1987). Like the best Asian horror P draws from rich local folklore and superstition and coupled with Spurrier’s almost documentary-like gaze it makes P an atmospheric little ditty. Anybody remotely familiar with Asian ghost horror will find nothing novel here, and just like Verónica (2017) and We Are Not Alone (2016) it was quietly released on Netflix. P was not going to revitalize the ghost subgenre, but it deserved better than that.