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

Every director needs a muse. Roger Vadim had Brigitte Bardot and Jane Fonda. Mario Imperoli and Silvio Amadio shared a muse in Gloria Guida. Luciano Ercoli had Nieves Navarro. Sergio Martino had Edwige Fenech. Lucio Fulci had Catriona MacColl. Jess Franco had Soledad Miranda and later Lina Romay. Joe D’Amato had Laura Gemser. Hong Kong exploitation mogul Jing Wong on the other hand had Chingmy Yau, who was not only his muse but also his mistress. Yau had been starring in various capacity in Wong movies since 1988 but it wasn’t until Naked Killer that she was given her own production. While it never quite reaches the pomp of God Of Gambers (1989) and its sequel nor channeling the sheer derivative efficacy of High Risk (1996), Naked Killer is every bit as much a valentine to Yau as it is a preamble to have Chingmy entangled in various risqué positions and flattering outfits. Naked Killer might not be Jing Wong’s best offering, but in the English-speaking world it’s certainly his most remembered.

Allegedly made in response to Yukio Noda’s Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs (1974) with Miki Sugimoto, Jing Wong conceived Naked Killer as a Hong Kong action take on the Paul Verhoeven erotic thriller Basic Instinct (1992) while director Clarence Ford aimed for a contemporary take on Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (1972), itself a HK variant of The French Sex Murders (1972). What Naked Killer actually looks like, at least most of the time, is a stylish erotic take on Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita (1990). If Jess Franco’s psychotronic sleaze epic Vampyros Lesbos (1971) was reimagined as a ‘90s HK action movie it would probably look something like this. Naked Killer ostensibly spawned an unrelated parallel franchise with Raped By An Angel (1993) (passed off as Naked Killer 2 in some territories, despite having no connections to the original) carrying over various cast and crew, and becoming a lucrative franchise of its own, spawning 5 installments from 1993 to 2003. Wong, ever the philistine, would revisit the lesbian hitwomen concept to increasing diminishing returns again in Naked Weapon (2002) with Maggie Q and Naked Soldier (2012) with Jenn Tse but neither came close to the enduring cult appeal of Naked Killer. For better or worse Naked Killer brought Category III to Europe and North America at large.

Up, front, and center of Naked Killer is Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching, the fairer half of one of HK cinema’s most recognizable power couples, who competed in the 1987 Miss Hong Kong beauty pageant, but withdrew under the guise of health issues after controversial allegations of plastic surgery on her chin arose. The veracity of the allegations seem to have never been substantiated. Yau was one of the leading ladies of Hong Kong cinema in the 1980s and early 1990s. She frequently worked with exploitation mogul Jing Wong. Having played good girl roles prior to her excursion into trash with Wong, Yau became one of the Hong Kong’s biggest sex symbols of the decade. There’s something strangely poetic (or romantic) about Wong, then a married man, casting his mistress in many of his productions of the time. Yau might have been the decade’s HK sex symbol but she refused, like her contemporary Amy Yip, to do full nudity as to not limit her career options. Wong on his part goes to ridiculous lengths to show as much of Yau as possible but also goes out on a limb to never fully expose her. Over the course of a decade-long career, spanning 55 movies, Yau was nominated three times for Best Actress at the Hong Kong Film Awards. Not just for respectable fare as I'm Your Birthday Cake (1995) and Hold You Tight (1998), but also for Naked Killer. In 1999 Chingmy Yau retired from acting and married Hong Kong fashion designer Shum Ka Wai, founder of fashion manufacturer I.T, with whom she has three children. Yau has been known for her charitable work and her eldest daughter Shen Yue recently modeled for UNICEF and has expressed no interest in entering showbusiness.

A recent string of random castration murders has the Hong Kong Police Force puzzled and detective Tinam (Simon Yam Tat-Wah) is assigned the latest of such cases. With results not forthcoming and Tinam still prone to projectile vomiting after accidently killing his police officer brother and unable to handle a gun, his commanding officer (Louis Roth) orders him to get a haircut. In the salon the HKPF detective witnesses a violent altercation between a particularly aggressive hairdresser and a flirty, scandily clad female client who identifies herself as Kitty (Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching) that ends with the hairdresser being repeatedly stabbed in the groin with a pair of shears. Kitty is able to flee the premises and Tinam gives chase. Kitty uses her ample womanly charms (and the detective’s gun) to convince him to let her go without questioning or making an arrest. A courtship between the two ensues as Kitty uses his pager to remain in contact. One day Kitty comes home to find her father (Chang Tseng), a food stand owner, killed by his wife’s lover Bee (Ken Lo Wai-Kwong). Kitty retaliates by infiltrating Bee’s Triad offices and killing absolutely everybody in sight before finally putting her crosshairs on the man she chose as target all along. On her way out she takes an older businesswoman hostage to facilitate her escape. As Bee’s henchmen close in on Kitty her hostage reveals herself to be Sister Cindy (Yiu Wai, as Kelly Yao), a retired special operative, and in the 70 second shoot-out that follows both women lay waste to all of the enemy agents as well as pretty much the entirety of the parking garage.

Recognizing Kitty’s penchant for casual mass slaughter and her appetite for wanton destruction Sister Cindy offers the young woman a deal. Either she will kill her or she can hand her over to law enforcement authorities which in no uncertain terms will mean life imprisonment. Kitty reluctantly agrees to become her disciple and before long she’s knee-deep into a regiment of martial arts - and special weapons training. On the side Sister Cindy instructs Kitty in the ways of seduction and destruction. Upon completion of her training she’s given a new identity and ordered to kill a high-ranking Yakuza target in a seedy nightclub. In retribution the Yakuza hire a pair of lesbian hitwomen Princess (Carrie Ng Ka-Lai) and Baby (Sugawara Madoka). Princess and Baby are revealed to be former disciples of Sister Cindy and will kill absolutely anybody for the right price, be they family or former mentors. Princess and Baby also happen to be lovers who don’t take kind to Sister Cindy having a new disciple. As the passion between Kitty and Tinam intensifies, the heat of the affair starts to spill over into their professional lives. In fact Kitty not only offers a solution of Tinam’s gun trauma but also solves his erectile problems at the same time. Princess and Baby are not amused by the male interloper as they secretly lust after Kitty. In the explosive finale Princess and Baby engage Kitty in battle to prove who gets to call herself the Naked Killer.

Unlike installments from the following decades Naked Killer has style to spare and will take every opportunity to relish in it. Its pop-art deco excesses easily match Jess Franco’s The Girl From Rio (1969) and The Devil Came From Akasava (1971) and Chingmy Yau gets to wear, and take off, some high-end fashion. The palette is vibrant and lively in its smattering pastel colors. During the final confrontation the rival hitwomen even don Phantom Of the Opera masks. The action direction by Lau Shung-Fung is up to par but it never reaches the creativity of the best work from Yuen Wo-Ping or Corey Yuen Kwai. 1992 was a particularly important year for Chingmy Yau as she would star in both Naked Killer and the manga adaptation City Hunter alongside Jackie Chan and Joey Wong. Yau had played a number of romantic and comedic roles by this point but Naked Killer was her first venture into something more erotic. Jing Wong was the subject of some controversy as he was engaged in a tryst with Yau while he was married. Hower, Wong always had a talent for spotting new talent and brought the world everybody from Sharla Cheung, Joey Wong, and Chingmy Yau to more recent belles as Valerie Chow, Charlie Yeung, Maggie Q, Jenn Tse and Candy Yuen Ka-Man.

The cast is as attractive as they come. Chingmy Yau is the obvious showstealer as the titular sexy assassin. Leading man Simon Yam, a model and Yau’s on-screen partner for much of the decade, is a strapping hunk. Sugawara Madoka, the only of the female cast to actually do any nudity, was Playmate Japan 1992. In fact if Naked Killer has a signature pose it is the crossing of one arm covering the chest. A pose that Chingmy Yau immortalized and etched in the memory of Hong Kong cinema fans worldwide, but that Sugawara Madoka also can be seen doing. Kelly Yao was both a singer and an actress but in recent years has found faith and now is an evangelical Christian. Carrie Ng on the other hand remains clothed through out while Sugawara does not. Ng had been acting for a decade by that point, while Sugawara acted in only a grand total of two movies in 1992-93. Wong’s juvenile humor is in full swing with Tinam’s partner (a cameo by Wong) mistaking a severed manhood for a sausage and T!nam’s tendency to projectile vomit. As always is Wong’s idea of humor far from sophisticated, crass, and wildly hit-and-miss. Category III movies had been around since the 1980s but it wasn’t until the explicit war atrocity expose Men Behind The Sun (1988) that directors and producers sought to capitalize on the taboo-prohibiliting rating. As far as Category III movies and the genre goes, Naked Killer is an extremely mild example of the form.

While Chingmy Yau has played a variety of roles for Wong over the years she remains the most identified with Naked Killer. Clearly it’s Wong’s valentine to his beloved mistress. Yau would make appearances in plenty of other Wong productions in the following years, including Future Cops (1993), City Hunter (1993), God of Gamblers Return (1994), and High Risk (1995). Jing Wong has returned to the lesbian hitwomen concept once every decade since Naked Killer. The episodes since have no connections to the original and as the productions became slicker much, if not all, of the mad frenetic energy that was present here has been increasingly sapped from the series. Naked Killer realizes just how ridiculous it is and continues to pile on until the entire thing threatens to collapse. That thankfully never happens, and whenever it does Wong throws in another shot of Chingmy Yau or Sugawara Madoka leering seductively at the camera. The Naked franchise has lost a lot of its luster over the ensuing two decades and Naked Killer remains by far the best of the bunch. Not only because it was the first but because it brims with style, oozes with excess and never takes itself too seriously. Perhaps God Of Gamblers (1989) is a much better title to get acquainted with Jing Wong’s deranged, mass audience antics – but there’s something about Naked Killer that he was never quite able to harness again. Naked Killer embodies the best of HK action cinema, although you shouldn’t take it too seriously. It certainly never does.

Plot: Royal Hong Kong Police officer takes down gang of assassins

Madam City Hunter was the second of three directorial features by frequent Kar-Wai Wong assistant director Johnnie Kong. As expected it is as far removed from the work of Kar-Wai Wong as you’d imagine. The most direct forebear for Madam City Hunter is the Sammo Hung produced Yes, Madam! (1985) with Michelle Yeoh. Like its forebear Madam City Hunter mixes fast-paced martial arts action with humour that frequently misses the mark and a family plot worthy of a syndicated daytime soap opera. The humor is above average and better than most Jing Wong. It isn’t high art and it never aspires to be. Its sexual politics are confused, the plot is scattered and barely threadbare at best, but it manages to deliver exactly what it promises: Cynthia Khan kicking everybody's ass with her balletic martial arts.

The plot concerns tough, no-nonsense Royal Hong Kong Police officer Yang Ching (Yang Li-Tsing, as Cynthia Khan) taking down a vicious gang of assassins known as the Five Fingers. Framed for the murder of a group of teens Ching is pulled off the case but encouraged by the smitten Commissioner Kwong (Kwong Leung Wong, as Tommy Kwong-Leung Wong) to clandestinely continue the investigation while he orders protection in the form of bumbling, goofy private investigator Charlie Chang (Anthony Wong) and his hyperactive girlfriend Blackie (Sheila Chan). On the homefront Ching’s wealthy father (Fung Woo) has a new fiancée in Siu-Hung (Kara Hui, as Chare Wai Eng Hong). Ching suspects she has ulterior motives but has nothing to substantiate the claim. Will Ching be able to stop Five Fingers leader Thumb (Yau Gin-Gwok) and his reign of terror across the city?

For Cynthia Khan Madam City Hunter was hardly her first venture into action. Khan was born Yang Li-Tsing in Taiwan and was a practitioner of taekwondo and ballet dancing. In 1985 she won a national talent contest run by a Taiwanese television station. Two years later, in 1987, she signed a contract with Hong Kong production company D & B Films Co., Ltd. to replace their star Michelle Yeoh (then still Kahn) in the third installment of the In the Line Of Duty series (1985-1991), a sequel franchise that arose from the box office success of the martial arts actioner Yes, Madam! (1985). At the urging of her contractors Yang Li-Tsing was given an Anglicized alias, in this case a portmanteau of her two favorite Hong Kong martial arts inspirations and D & B favorites: Cynthia Rothrock and Michelle Kahn (later Yeoh). Thus came to be Cynthia Kahn, a reliable second-tier performer who made up her lack of acting talent in sheer athleticism, acrobacy and elegance of movement. As Michelle Yeoh’s star rose with appearances in the Bond episode Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and the period wuxia epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) Cynthia Khan was summarily (and unjustly) relegated to obscurity.

The remainder of the cast was a gathering of talent, old and new. Kara Hui was a Chinese actress that grew up in the shanty town of Tiu Keng Leng (or Rennie’s Mill as it is more popularly known) before being discovered by director Lau Kar-leung. Hui made a name for herself for her numerous kung fu roles in Shaw Bros productions all through the 1970s and 80s. In 1993 Anthony Wong was a rising star with appearances in Hong Kong actioners as Hard Boiled (1992), and The Heroic Trio (1993), as well as Cat. III productions as The Untold Story (1993) and Ebola Syndrome (1996). Sheila Chan was Miss Photogenic and the first runner-up at the 1988 Miss Hong Kong Pageant. Chan earlier had played a character named Blackie in the actioner Lady Hunter: Prelude to Murder (1992), the directorial debut of Takashi Miike. Fung Woo was an elder statesmen of Hong Kong cinema. He was a known matinee idol in the 1950s and 1960s and famous for his frequent collaborations with Josephine Siao in 1960s musicals. He was nicknamed the “Dance King” for his legendary dancing skills.

As expected with low budget romps like this the writing is hit-and-miss. In the beginning it spents far too long on a subplot concerning one of the kids for whose murder Ching is framed for. Another subplot concerns the financial woes of private investigator Charlie Chan and his girlfriend Blackie. The dinner scene with Blackie constantly toasting and getting ever drunker in the process gets on the nerves quick. In fact Blackie’s entire character seems to be based around endless screaming and pseudo-funny skits. The connect-the-dots screenplay exists as a showcase for the fight choreography. Said choreography is pretty good considering on how small of a budget this was produced. Khan is elegant in all of her martial arts routines, and even Anthony Wong throws in a few select moves towards the end. Madam City Hunter works around its budgetary limitations with frequent martial arts routines and comedic overkill. Not all the humor hits the mark, but things could be far worse. Cynthia Khan’s filmography is littered with low-budget outings like this, and Madam City Hunter is among the better entries in a considerable body of work that wildly fluxuates in terms of quality.

The action choreography by Cheung-Yan Yuen sells Madam City Hunter even when the screenplay doesn’t. It starts with an extended shootout in a building holding a bunch of heavily-armed gangsters, Khan bursts in and makes short work of any assailants she encounters by relentlessly high-kicking, punching, or shooting the life out of them. Known for her no-nonsense cop roles Cynthia Khan here shows a more gentle, humane side to her character as Royal Hong Kong Police officer Yang Ching is fallible too – and Madam City Hunter has her partying, being lovesick, sad, and getting drunk. The one-on-one fights are fast-paced, hard-hitting and energetic to a fault. Khan takes as much damage as she metes out. The confrontation with the head goon takes her across his hideout, and sees her fighting him with bamboo sticks. When he tries to take off Khan continues her pursuit across rooftops. The entire sequence climaxes as Khan battles her katana-wielding opponent unarmed hanging suspended from a bamboo scaffolding and into an adjacent room where he is finally defeated and arrested. Khan’s graceful balletic moves, athleticism, and martial arts chops are what sells the scene.

Madam City Hunter is strangely enjoyable action nonsense that obviously capitalized on Jackie Chan’s City Hunter (1993) from Hong Kong cultural zeitgeist - and exploitation institution Jing Wong and Michelle Yeoh's Yes, Madam! (1985). It caters to the same audience from Khan’s In the Line Of Duty series even though the humor, often lowbrow and juvenile, frequently gravitates into The Inspector Wears Skirts (1988-1992) territory. The comedy takes an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. Whether it’s Anthony Wong’s incessant mugging and bumbling in front of the camera, Sheila Chan’s infectious-cum-annoying hyperactivity, the prerequisite cross-dressing assassin, and a pre-Viagra herbal extract joke that is mistaken for poison (with the expected results). The middle section drags somewhat with its numerous romantic misadventures that could've come out of Bollywood production. Sheila Chan looks pretty cute in her little maid outfit. Cynthia Khan and Kara Hui regularly steam up the screen with their mini-skirts and the fight choreography by Cheung-Yan Yuen is frenetic, elegant and frequently impressive thanks to its sheer can-do attitude. Madam City Hunter is far better than it has any right to be, and low-budget HK action regularly doesn't always aspire to the standards that Madam City Hunter sets for itself. As far as Hong Kong action nonsense goes you could do far worse than Madam City Hunter.