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