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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: timid gamer must find Chile’s most feared hitwoman

Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman (released domestically as Tráiganme la Cabeza de la Mujer Metralleta) is one of those rare cases where a movie delivers exactly what the poster promises, but somehow still manages to not fully capitalize on that very same potential. What we hoped would be a Chilean Naked Killer (1992) is often bogged down by that other thing for which it’s famous. Ernesto Díaz Espinoza is good enough to mask budgetary constraints and limitations, but for an alleged exploitation film tribute Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman is not nearly gritty, and exploitative enough when push comes to shove. Much to our dismay it dances around the hot sauce exactly the way the Robert Rodriguez-Quentin Tarantino Grindhouse double-feature Planet Terror and Death Proof (2007) did. What exactly is the point of making an indie when you’re going to play by Hollywood rules, anyway? Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman had its world premiere at the Austin Film Festival (AFF) in Texas in 2012 and was released in Chile in 2013.

Since debuting in 2006 with Killtro director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza has helmed another 8 features, with Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman probably his only to gain any kind of international following. The Machine Gun Woman of Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman is as much his creation as it is that of Fernanda Urrejola. It never quite goes the Ginger (1971) or Stacey! (1973) route, and is far more faithful to being that long-overdue Grand Theft Auto video game adaptation the world still hasn’t gotten at this point. In fact at critical points the entire GTA thing gets in the way of the 1970s exploitation actioner that Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman is somewhere deep down inside. We’re convinced that Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman had been better served as two seperate stand-alone features: a 1970s exploitation actioner with Fernanda Urrejola as la Mujer Metralleta, and a Grand Theft Auto crime-comedy with Matías Oviedo. Taken for what it is Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman gets as much right as it gets wrong.

Santiago Fernández (Matías Oviedo) is a video game-obsessed layabout who lives with his mother (Francisca Castillo) in Santiago de Chile. He’s a bit naïve and too passive to have any kind of upward social mobility to improve his lot in life. Santiago works as a DJ in the Tango Club with his friend Israelito (Nicolás Ibieta). One day word reaches Argentinian crimelord Che Longana (Jorge Alís, as Jorge Alis) that the infamous bounty hunter la Mujer Metralleta (or The Machine Gun Woman) (Fernanda Urrejola) is out to collect the prize on his head. He offers a staggering amount of money to anyone who can, “tráiganme la cabeza de la Mujer Metralleta.” So much money in fact that would instantly rid him and his mother of their financial woes. Suddenly a fire erupts within Santiago.

What Che doesn’t know is that mild mannered Santiago has overheard his conversation, and when he does his right-hand man Bracoli (Jaime Omeñaca), with some help from Siberiano, threatens Santiago with bodily harm. The youth fast-talks his way out of the situation and vows to Che that he will kill the Machine Gun Woman. Duly impressed by the DJ don Longana gives Santiago exactly 24 hours to bring in The Machine Gun Woman. If he fails he and his mother will be killed instead. Unbeknownst to Santiago he’s being followed by Che’s gang of sicario (or hitmen) with intention to kill both him and la Mujer Metralleta. The Machine Gun Woman saves Santiago from harm several times, and there’s some obvious mutual attraction. The two gun up and confront Che Longana and in the explosive finale Santiago chases la Mujer Metralleta after they share a kiss, only to be flagged down by a group of patrolling police cars observing the mayhem.

It’s a given that not every indie film can be a pastiche/tribute as well-honed, lovingly detailed, and on-point as Ben Combes’ Commando Ninja (2018). Ernesto Díaz Espinoza’s Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman borrows the central conceit, and part of its title, from Sam Pekinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) and frequently riffs on Luc Besson’s Léon: The Professional (1994). That is when it’s not paying tribute to Robert Rodriguez’ El Mariachi (1992), gritty 1970s exploitation from Russ Meyer and Don Schain, and Quentin Tarantino. Espinoza acknowledges the importance of Pekinpah’s seminal film when he has Santiago hand Israelito hand a fake PlayStation 2 game called Bring Me the Head Of Rene Garcia. What sets Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman apart is that the entire premise is overlaid with a well-developed Grand Theft Auto framing device that has Matías Oviedo as the player avatar, complete with mission titles, cash rewards, and sepia-toned plot-driving cutscenes. It’s sort of the GTA: Latin America that the world never got. Or a 70-minute Delinquent Habits music video/short film with Fernanda Urrejola sporting her oversized guns (both literal and figurative) and a stripper/dominatrix combo sure to get the pulse of any and every red-blooded male racing.

As good as Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman is, there’s an obvious disconnect between the grimy 1970s exploitation aesthetic (the grains, dirt, and scratches on the “print”, over/under exposed lighting, etc), the cooler-than-you Quentin Tarantino dialogue, and the Grand Theft Auto bits. It has the production value and kenetic energy of Robert Rodriguez’ El Mariachi (1992) and the Grand Theft Auto framing device (complete with corresponding font and music) is original to say the least. The unfortunate thing is that the Santiago and la Mujer Metralleta plots often appear to be at odds with each other. The la Mujer Metralleta is an interesting enough character to base an entire stand-alone feature around, and the GTA framing device, while interesting and integrated good enough, doesn’t really offer any additional value. Fernanda Urrejola is la mujer of the title but even though this is clearly supposed to be an exploitation film she’s never seen sin ropas. The brief (1975-1983 ) Cine de Destape Español (Cine S) in Spain, the pornochanchada from Brazil, and the maple syrup porn from Canada, all soft erotica, were more explicit than this. Not that a production like this stands or falls by the amount of female nudity featured, but it’s hardly exploitative as such. There was clearly some degree of sanitizing involved to make this one accessible for a general audience.

The reason to see Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman is, of course, the titular woman herself, Fernanda Urrejola. These days Urrejola is known for Narcos: Mexico (2018) but prior to Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman she was a regular on television with Mujeres de Lujo (2010), and Diario secreto de una profesional (2012), or Chilean variants of The Client List (2012-2013) and Secret Diary of a Call Girl (2007-2011), respectively. Urrejola plays the Machine Gun Woman as a hypersexual(ized) gunwielding stripper-soldier and the character is something between what the late Russ Meyer and Andy Sidaris would dream up. It wouldn't be too far-fetched to think that Jing Wong's Naked Soldier (2012) with Jennifer Tse Ting-Ting (謝婷婷) took after la Mujer Metralleta.

Beneath her overt sexuality lies hidden enough conflicted pathos and melancholy that Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman simply has no time, or interest, in exploring. That look the Machine Gun Woman has in her eye when she corners Santiago at gunpoint after he managed to lure her out into the open just begs for a backstory. A backstory that Ernesto Díaz Espinoza never even alludes to, nor cares to explore. At its strongest this is a gender-swapped El Mariachi (1992) set in rural Chile instead of México. The Machine Gun Woman is both a feminist empowerment - and a male wish fulfillment fantasy at once. More puzzling and damning perhaps is that la Mujer Metralleta is something of a glorified side character in a production bearing her name. That it never spawned a sequel in tradition of Naked Killer (1992) is a question for the ages.

Who wouldn’t love to see a Chilean Hardboiled (1992) with la Mujer Metralleta as the lead? Naked Killer (1992) after all was nothing more than Hardboiled (1992) by way of Vampyros Lesbos (1971) with enough explosive setpieces, stiletto heels, stockings, pastel-colored dresses, and a penchant for getting Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching out of her clothes whenever possible. If anything, we sincerely hope that Ernesto Díaz Espinoza and Fernanda Urrejola eventually bring back la Mujer Metralleta for a second round, be it in a direct sequel or in a stand-alone feature with her as the centerpiece. Imagine what a sequel to Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman could be if Urrejola got to duke it out with voluptuous Bolivian sexbomb Stephanie Herala? It remains somewhat baffling that a character this poignant isn’t wider known, or that the usual suspects (Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Eli Roth) haven’t remade it yet for the American market and the English-speaking world. Not that we want to give anybody any ideas. We’re somewhat baffled that the Machine Gun Woman apparently is hardly known outside of Latin America… and that’s a shame. Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman may not be cinematic art, but it’s damn entertaining…