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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…

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.