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Plot: Hong Kong babes must partake in clandestine martial arts tournament.

Kick Ass Girls (released domestically as 爆3俏嬌娃, or roughly translated, Explosive 3) is a Mainland China Bloodsport (1988) or Lionheart (1990) derivate aimed specifically at young adult girls, or so it seems at least. There’s physical comedy, romance, and enough inter-personal drama to fill a daytime soap opera. The girls get to giggle, wear lots of pastel-colored fashion and don expensive make-up while living it up big. It comes bursting with girl power and acts as a feminist manifesto of sorts. Even though it was directed by a woman, there are more than enough shots of the Kick Ass Girls in sexy get-ups for the guys to take notice. As for ourselves, we mainly checked it out because it stars Chrissie Chau Sau-Na, who’ve really taken a shine to in recent years. What Angel Warriors (2013) was to action-adventure, Kick Ass Girls is to the martial arts/streetfighting movie.

You have to admire Chrissie Chau Sau-Na. Chrissie started acting in 2006 and the by time Kick Ass Girls rolled around in 2013 her career was moving upward. She had a minor box office hit with the sports comedy Beach Spike (2011) two years before and now she and her friends were teaming up once again for something similar. Kick Ass Girls signaled her exit from ghost horror and fantasy wuxia and back into the romance and dramas wherein she made a name for herself. As a model-turned-actress Chrissie might not be as inherently gifted as, say, Ni Ni or as stupendously curvy as Mavis Pan Shuangshuang, Pan Chun Chun, or Miki Zhang Yi-Gui – but she has proven to be a versatile actress that can easily carry a production on her own. Of all the aspiring actresses in Mainland China her workhorse mentality has made her a respectable force domestically, and she could very well cross over into the English-speaking world the way Fan Bingbing, Yu Nan, and Ni Ni did if she ever mastered more than just her native Mandarin and Cantonese. 2013 was a busy year for sweet Chrissie that saw her appearing in a whopping 11 (!!) movies, among them Cold Pupil (2013), Lift to Hell (2013), and The Extreme Fox (2013). Chau won a Hong Kong Film Award in 2017 and among her more prestigious recent projects is Master Z: Ip Man Legacy (2018) from director Yuen Wo-Ping. Not bad at all for the girl who Hong Kong enfant terrible Raymond Wong once described as just another airheaded “bimbo”.

In Hong Kong entrepreneur Boo (Chrissie Chau Sau-Na) is having a hard time keeping her Kick Ass Girl gym profitable. Her friends and business partners TT (Hidy Yu Xiao-Tong) and Miu (DaDa Lo Chung-Chi) are more of a hindrance than a help. Their manager (Lawrence Chou Chun-Wai) does the best he can under the circumstances, but he isn’t able to turn the tide. When Boo’s brother Dice (Chui Tien-You) is scammed out of her hard-earned money by his crook of a partner, and the landlord (Courtney Wu) comes calling for rent; it looks as if the curtain is about to fall over Kick Ass Girl. One night the gym is overrun by black suited corporate goons, and the three girls defend what is rightfully theirs. Duly impressed by their showing Boo, TT, and Miu are hired as security detail by, and for, businesswoman Zhuge (Chris Tung Bing-Yuk). When she informs them that their first assignment will be a trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as part of her entourage. The Kick Ass Girls board the next plane to what they consider to be an easy paycheck, but mostly a lavish “paid vacation”. Once settled in their Kuala Lumpur hotel the girls live it up in their suite and go clubbing. Upon returning their driver takes them not to their hotel, but to a clandestine full-contact martial arts tournament organized by the Red Dragon cartel. There they’ll be forced to fight to the death. They will not only have to face reigning champion Emily (Lam Pui-Kei), but also the forces of crime lord Ghost Lion (Bryan To Hang-Lam) and his ring of human traffickers. Thanks to a reporter (Karson Lok Jan-Wai) the Kick Ass Girls make headlines boosting Boo’s struggling gym to become profitable.

Sounds all strangely and vaguely familiar, doesn't it? That’s because Kick Ass Girls is, give or take a few scenes that are changed around and some condensed plot contrivances here and there, more or less a contemporary young adult update of the Teresa Woo San Girls with Guns classic Angels 2 (1987). Not only that, director John McTiernan, or writers Jim and John Thomas, must have been familiar with it too because the entire jungle raid that opens Predator (1987) re-enacts the best moments of the jungle raid finale in one of Hollywood’s most fondly remembered action sequences. A running joke or gag is that TT and Miu, two self-described “HK flat-chests”, are jealous of Boo’s rather wealthy bosom, and it’s all the funnier that it comes to save them in the end. It’s also pretty funny that a gym called Kick Ass Girl has a predominantly male patronage, and only after their Malay adventure do more girls start pouring in. Okay, there’s a Kick Ass Boy sign that can be seen for only a couple of seconds in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it early scene in the very beginning. The action direction and fight choreography from Che Kim-Fai is decent enough, but it’s never particularly riveting. As such it’s no match for the high-flying choreography from Stanley Tong Gwai-Lai in Angels 2 (1987).

The biggest name of the cast is the always enjoyable Chrissie Chau Sau-Na. Kick Ass Girls wasn’t Chrissie’s first sports movie and neither was it the first time she co-starred with both DaDa Lo Chung-Chi and Hidy Yu Xiao-Tong. The same thing happened very much earlier with the volleyball comedy Beach Spike (2011). While it’s true that Chau is never going to conquer the English-speaking world the way Fan Bingbing, Yu Nan, or Ni Ni have, she has proven that she’s not afraid of physical acting. In Kick Ass Girls she’s the most talented of the three leads, and it’s quite obvious why Vincci Cheuk Wan-Chi (who has a much smaller supporting role) chose it as a vehicle exactly with her in mind. DaDa Lo Chung-Chi and Hidy Yu Xiao-Tong are both good enough, but Chau doesn’t have the chemistry she had with Connie Man Hoi-Ling, and Joyce Cheng Yan-Yi in the Jing Wong production iGirl (2016). We've come to like Chrissie a lot since we first laid eyes on her in the lamentable Lift to Hell (2013) and unlike Pan Chun Chun, Miki Zhang Yi-Gui, and Zhu Ke Er she can actually act when given the right material. Just like in The Extreme Fox (2013) later the same year Chrissie is a wonder to behold when she’s given a screenplay that plays up to her strengths. Cold Pupil (2013) might not have been a lot but at least it knew what to do with her. It almost goes without saying but Kick Ass Girls, for all intents and purposes, is Chrissie’s movie – and she owns it.

Compared to Beach Spike (2011) this one is equally cheery and is a lot darker in tone than you’d expect from a young adult drama. It starts off majestic enough with Chrissie bouncing around in the ring to the tones of Ludwig Van Beethoven's 5th Symphony in C Minor but when she does the same to ‘Act 2 - Squilla il bronzo del dio… Guerra, guerra’ (‘Act 2 – The bronze of God rings… War, war’) from Vincenzo Bellini’s famous 1831 opera Norma her situation is quite different and much more desperate. Judging by the amount of breast – and cleavage shots you’d swear Kick Ass Girls was directed by a man, but nothing could be further from the truth. Vincci Cheuk Wan-Chi likes the female form just as much as the average red-blooded male, but she never makes it a point. Chrissie Chau Sau-Na is versatile enough to handle the drama as well as the kickboxing – and she’s at her best when she can act physically. Kick Ass Girls isn’t going to appeal to anybody who doesn’t already like these actresses or has a passing familiarity with Angels 2 (1987) which apparently served as a template. That minor qualm aside Kick Ass Girls is better than most Mainland China webmovies usually are.

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