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Since its first screening in 1992, Naked Killer has faced opposition all over the world for its subject material, becoming a byword for everything that a good Category 3 movie should be. The censor’s scissors have been judiciously applied to every previous U.K. release but since the winds of change have begun to blow through the corridors of power at the BBFC, what was previously out of bounds is now available for your enjoyment. Thing is, should you believe the hype?

Naked Killer
A spate of murders is gripping Hong Kong. The latest of these forms the basis of the opening sequence as exquisite assassin Princess (Carrie Ng) slips her way into the apartment of a low-rent criminal before despatching her victim in an innovatively athletic way involving dumb bells and a silenced pistol.

Baffled by this series of slayings in which all the departed are males who’ve had their genitals removed or shot off during the course of their killing, the police department welcomes back Inspector Tinam (Simon Yam) to the homicide squad. When Tinam proposes a outlandish theory that the perpetrator of these crimes could be a woman or even a syndicate of female hitmen, his superior rubbishes his idea believing the incident that took Tinam off the force (the fatal shooting of his own brother) resulting in psychological trauma is affecting his judgement. Still unable to hold his weapon without throwing up despite extensive counselling, Tinam is desperate to show his worth to the force by proving his hunch.

Following a scrotal-stabbing incident in a hairdressing salon, Tinam becomes involved with Kitty (Chingmy Yau) having initially believing her to be behind the murder spree. After the murder of her father by businessman Bee, who’s discovered to have been a little too friendly with her stepmother, Kitty takes revenge on the bed-hopping baddie in his office (you may never look at a freshly sharpened pencil in the same way again) but when her getaway fails  she’s rescued by mysterious Sister Cindy (Yu Wai). Changing Kitty’s identity, Sister Cindy reveals herself to be the top assassin in Hong Kong behind many of the executions and takes Kitty under her wing to be her new student.

However, Princess, who has her own pupil Baby (Madoka Sugawara), is infatuated with her former mentor’s protégé. Tinam is closing in on the quartet of killers as he single-mindedly investigates Kitty’s supposed disappearance and when the Triads order Princess to eliminate Sister Cindy the stage is set for an explosive five-way final showdown...

Coming across as a supercharged mix of Basic Instinct and Nikita with more than a hint of Vertigo thrown in, Clarence Ford’s concoction is rather more than the sum of its parts might suggest. Yes, it shamelessly steals from the movies mentioned above (there’s even a leg-crossing sequence lifted wholesale from Basic Instinct) so that it’s not an entirely cohesive narrative. Yes, the characterisation is so thin as to reduce some secondary players to mere caricatures (Dickhead, anyone?). Yes, the dialogue at certain points is so crude as to be risible. Yet, all these points coalesce to ensure that Naked Killer is one fun over-the-top film. A sophisticated densely plotted movie it is not, nor does it for one moment pretend to be as such.

While its’ notoriety may be based on the lesbian hip and lip-locking, this is not simply a parade of female flesh. Granted, there’s plenty of skin on show from Carrie Ng and Chingmy Yau, but only one pair of breasts is ever bared (and they come from Madoka Sugawara). Also, this theme of lesbian lovers is closely tied in with the motif of male emasculation. Princess dismembers or disfigures the ‘iron man’ of her victims as a method of humiliation; these unworthy opponents are just not ‘man’ enough to deserve her consideration as serious competition. Similarly, Tinam’s inability to wield his weapon (pun intended) is a transparent reference to impotence. Only in the final act does Tinam overcome his psychological dysfunction to be empowered to use his overly large and phallic firearm to become the equal of Baby and Princess.

Naked Killer
The movie is shot through with little or no style from director Clarence Ford. His use of strong blues and greens in his stark palette allied to the set design is striking and belies the limited budget. The action sequences illustrate that the three years Ford spent training in Jackie Chan’s stunt school were well spent judging by the high-octane and occasionally exceptionally intricate hand to hand fight scenes and it’s definitely difficult to tell that Chingmy Yau has been doubled by Yueng Ching-Ching.

Ah, Chingmy Yau. Where so much emphasis is placed on style over substance, the film stands or falls on the strength of it leads. Thankfully, Chingmy Yau and Carrie Ng don’t disappoint in setting the screen on fire, Yau managing to capture the earnest naivete of the new kid on the killing ground and Ng as the ice queen of on screen assassins. Simon Yam does well to hold together the more extreme strands of the story with some gravitas, always hinting that he could do some really sterling work given the right material.

This central troika makes the film eminently watchable (I challenge any male viewer not to go weak at the knees when either Chingmy Yau or Carrie Ng are on display, this clearly being the intention of Ford and Wong Jing) but able support is supplied by Yu Wai as the teacher approaching the end of her cleaning career who adds a touch of class to proceedings. Unfortunately, you have to pity poor Madoka Sugawara as Baby, an 18 year old Japanese actress clearly out of her depth, who looks bemused as to why exactly she’s signed up for this movie.

Given Hong Kong Legends’ well-earned reputation for restoring and re-mastering poor prints, I was expecting a drastic improvement over my scratchy old VHS edition. While a lot of obvious care and attention has been expended, this transfer isn’t quite the quantum leap for which I’d been hoping.

In a word, it’s soft. Represented at an anamorphically enhanced ratio of 1.78:1, colours are bright without being overly vibrant and while there’s never any smearing, contrast levels really suffer when displaying writhing bodies against a beige background (which, as you can imagine, happens quite a lot) and the heavy filters and soft focus employed by Ford don’t help matters. Blacks are never as deep as they should be and there are key instances, usually involving the rendering of the hair of Chingmy Yau or Carrie Ng, where shadow detail is wanting.

Thankfully the digitally created subtitles are presented in a simple font which makes them always clear to read, even against the frequent strongly lit pale backgrounds, without any spelling or grammatical faux pas.

It’s not a terrible transfer, one suspects that the master was in none too good condition in the first instance, and I’m loathe to criticise HKL too harshly but having viewed previous efforts and in direct comparison with the release of John Woo’s The Killer from the same label, I really was anticipating something much better.

Naked Killer
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, available with the original Cantonese or dubbed English audio, is decent stuff although the subwoofer remains under-used throughout the duration of the movie, even with the plentiful shoot-outs. Channel separation is handled well, particularly in the standout sonic scene of the shoot-out in the car park, with dialogue pleasingly high in the mix. However, directly due to the soundtrack being refreshingly clean and sharp, the use of library effects and Cantonese over-dubbing is painfully obvious (not something unheard of in Eastern cinema admittedly) but the whole presentation lacks real punch.

With regard to the English dub, the voice actors have really gone overboard to provide some earnestly overheated performances. Simultaneously terrible and fascinating, it’s worth checking out with the English subs switched on not only as it makes the movie even more enjoyably preposterous but also as a guide to how the nuances of a movie (yes, even Naked Killer) are altered when adhering to the demands of lip-synching in a dramatically different foreign tongue.

First up is an audio commentary from director Clarence Ford, aided and abetted by Hong Kong stuntman Jude Poyer, and it’s a real eye opener. Those who’d previously sampled Ford’s work in Naked Killer (in whichever varied censored forms) or more potently The Huntress: Her Name Is Cat and were familiar with his notorious reputation but who’d had no prior exposure, as it were, to the man himself, may be highly surprised to find that this softly-spoken fortysomething is nothing like the Paul Verhoeven/Joe Eszterhas of Asian cinema that you might expect. Speaking in clear English, though his delivery may be a little laboured at times with Poyer required at various points to nudge him along, Ford is at pains to point out producer Wong Jing was often as responsible for on-screen events as himself. As hostage to his producer’s demands as much as his own creative impulses behind the camera, Ford paints a picture of a collaborative effort somewhat akin to directing by committee, even highlighting a key comedic scene during Tinam’s investigation that was shot while he was not even on set!

While he’s never the most refined speaker, Ford provides plenty of background information as the driving force behind the commentary, Poyer acting as more a mediator than a co-contributor. It’s interesting to note the amount of times he professes his dislike of staging erotic sequences before rapidly contradicting himself with another ill-timed burst of “Oh, I like this scene” when the protagonists begin disrobing duties. Paul Verhoeven he’s not but that doesn’t prevent Ford from admiring his own handiwork when it comes to the slickly shot sex.

Naked Killer
To expand upon points raised in the commentary is a stand-alone interview with director Clarence Ford. Clocking in at about 25 minutes, Ford’s responses initially cover much ground already well-trodden in his discussions with Jude Poyer but he goes on to expand on several key points. Notably this goes into greater detail regarding the casting process by which Carrie Ng and Chingmy Yau were finalised as the film’s leads, giving a very tangible sense of how difficult it was to get this Category 3 movie off the ground with bankable stars owing to the strictures of the Cantonese culture. Indeed, it is revealed that respected Hong Kong acting regulars Maggie Cheung and Anita Mui stayed well clear of the material on offer purely for fear of the potential shame brought to their families.

Also of note in this interview is the rationale behind devising a costume aesthetic to facilitate Carrie Ng wearing gloves in order to overcome her awkwardness at touching another woman’s body and the little known nugget that Ford flatly rejected the chance to direct Basic Instinct 2, at the time of writing still stuck in development hell.

A separate interview gallery holds a couple for further Q & A sessions, the first featuring leading man Simon Yam. Having just watched the movie, it’s a shock to see Chingmy Yau’s favourite opposite number seemingly having taken sartorial suggestions from wrestling superstar The Rock in what can only be described as some loungecore lothario attire. Once you get past this initial astonishment, Yam is an earnest interviewee with good English offering a potted history of his 150(!) films to date, beginning with a solid grounding in TVB’s television serial factory alongside no less than Chow Yun-Fat, before breaking into movies and offering this thoughts on working with leading luminaries of the Hong Kong scene such as Yuen Woo-Ping, Jet Li and John Woo. Initially intriguing, alas Yam regrettably runs rapidly out of steam rendering this item worthy of viewing only once.

The second of these interviews focuses on producer Wong Jing. Writer and producer of Naked Killer, Jing coupled Chingmy Yau with Jackie Chan for his directorial effort City Hunter and was also behind the lamentable Body Weapon. With a duration of 20 minutes, this is a pretty general overview of Hong Kong cinema and how Naked Killer remains a very small but significant part of it. However, of greater interest is how Wong Jing pulls apart the differences between Hong Kong and Hollywood with the trend-led approach to making movies and offers an insight into how flicks from the former colony could well follow a more distinctly Chinese style from now on following integration with the mainland.

The original theatrical trailer is included, alongside its U.K. promotional cousin which is curiously restrained in comparison with its Far East counterpart when considering the relatively liberal attitude of the West to on-screen sexual activity. A roster of promotional fluff for several further HKL titles are also here, featuring trailers and limited product information.

All of these bonus materials can be accessed by some wonderfully well-designed animated menus (incorporating randomised film clips), most of which are scored using soundtrack loops from the movie.

Naked Killer
It’s bold, brash and beautiful. Perhaps that’s why this movie turns audiences on and off in equal measures. Definitely an acquired taste, the themes and motifs in Naked Killer have been endlessly rehashed in similar low-grade fare so as to make what was once fresh into an easily recognisable set of clichés. Lovers of Asian ladies onscreen will be in seventh heaven here although those seeking a more restrained movie experience may well struggle to get into the swing of Naked Killer.

While its disappointing that many of the features planned to make this release a Platinum Edition to rival Red Wolf seem to have gone missing along the way (a Bey Logan commentary was a must for this movie surely?), its another good disc from HKL. Having set the standard of Asian releases so high in recent times, the audio and video on offer here might seem somewhat inferior but at last owners of VHS versions can consign their worn out copies to the dustbin. With Wong Jing making reference in his interview to a possible forthcoming sequel, perhaps Chingmy Yau can be coaxed out of retirement after all...