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In 1983, George Lucas' FX-team from ILM were hired to create Hong Kong's visual effects extravaganza Zu: Warriors Of The Magic Mountain which was produced using optical methodologies - even by their own standards it seems quite hokey and not even close to the quality that the Star Wars Trilogy enjoyed by this very same production house at that time. In 1998, another experiment was afforded to come up with The Stormriders this time utilising CGI for its effects - the results were admirable given the budget restraints back then. In 2003, the cost of digital filmmaking has come down in cost so much that even Hong Kong has been able to afford the latest in this technology to become the new standard in every film they produce from now on - Naked Weapon marks itself as one of these creations.

Whilst Naked Weapon is nothing particularly remarkable on the surface for its action sequences or plot, it might still be looked back in years to come as another milestone in the history of Hong Kong cinema. Amongst its more obvious achievements (such as the superlative visual and aural presentation) this movie may have started a new wave for the female actors especially in the Hong Kong film industry. Even though this film still exhibits many exploitative elements, the 95% female casting was able to demand more input into the creative process and reduce these questionable practices that have usually meant bigger profits when released in the cinema and onto video. It may not seem like this on first viewing, but the changes are enough so that it won't seem like yet another opportunity just to show a bit of T and A purely for the sake of it (well, maybe not in a couple of the scenes). This film has probably been given more attention to its production than is probably warranted for the script, so not all of the storytelling elements are going to match each other for quality of output.

Naked Weapon (Platinum Edition)
For want of a better parallel, Naked Weapon is a cross between La Femme Nikita and Battle Royale (kind of like a twisted Survivor) with a bit of Charlie's Angels, Basic Instinct and The Matrix thrown in for good measure. This movie was touted as a long-awaited sequel to Naked Killer however it holds more depth than its predecessor and, thanks to the lead actresses, exudes a more civilised sexuality that actually drives the plot rather than just being a cheap voyeuristic perve at female nudity. Regardless of this, it's something that the kiddies shouldn't watch since there is a scene that earns its UK-18 rating quite understandably but it is still within an acceptable context to help empathise with the characters.

My initial reaction from watching this movie for the first time was that a lot of thought was put into delivering characters that we can sympathise with, both the director and cast have done well in this respect.  At the same time it leaves you with the distinct impression that this film was one big learning curve for everyone involved, especially the actors who have probably had a limited experience in selling themselves on camera - the acting therefore ranges from credible to high-school drama dropout.

The action sequences too are enjoyable even though much of it involves wirework which I am usually against, however the use of it here is for an aid to the action rather than trying to make the characters leap inexplicably a hundred feet in the air. Yes, I know the ending becomes less convincing than a three-dollar bill but this was the director's decision in portraying a more emotional version of events (although I still don't get it). And as is pointed out in the DVD extras, much of what we see here is actually quite possible to achieve by Wu Shu martial artists without the use of wires (I've seen such footage of this elsewhere). Admittedly it is very pretty although not very "practical" from how it has been exhibited in this movie, however the stunt sequences are so graceful that you can't help but be in awe of it all.

For such a modest budget, the production values of this Hong Kong flick are equivalent to those found in Hollywood where the cost is usually ten to twenty times more in order to exhibit the same quality of presentation. The reason that Hong Kong filmmakers are able to do this is because they always have to rely on more inventive ways to impress their audiences, to make the most of the limited financial and physical resources at their disposal. But no matter how much Hollywood tries to advance itself in the art of filmmaking, Hong Kong will always remain two steps ahead of them with their stylish and stunning action set pieces as well as showing every dollar spent on-screen.

Movie
Jack Chen (Daniel Wu, Gen-X Cops, 2000 A.D.) goes along on a stakeout in Rome with two senior police detectives in the hope of catching out Madam M (Almen Wong, Till Death Do Us Part) aka The Assassin Recruiter aka Bitch Queen From Hell. However, the operation goes balls-up with his partners getting killed and Madam M's only female contract killer getting herself blown up after successfully eliminating her prey just beforehand. Now that Madam M is left with noone to do all her dirty work, she goes about kidnapping 40 girls from around the world to train them in the art of "stranger-killing". The girls are shacked away on a remote island with no hope of escape, so they have no choice but to follow Madam M's obviously insane instruction lest they are executed without mercy. Jack Chen is now heading the so-called "China Dolls" investigation in the vain hope of rescuing these poor souls.

Naked Weapon (Platinum Edition)
Six years later, the girls have matured into beautiful yet ruthless killing machines in which their final days are spent having to off each other until only one is left standing (although this must have been a terrible waste of time, money and effort in the end for Madam M). It finally comes down to three ladies: one is a miserly loner named Jing (Jewel Lee) who has just put down her aggrivating partner (Monica Lo) and the other two are a close-knit duo who have forged an unlikely yet caring bond with each other on the island, Charlene (Maggie Q, Gen-Y Cops) and Katherine (Anya Wu, Tsui Hark's Vampire Hunters).

Spoiler (highlight to read): <font color="#EEEEEE">Madam M decides that all three will live and serve her cause. The chosen trio sit down to a sumptuous dinner only to be duped by some dodgy wine (another part of their "training" that noone should ever have to go through). This dreadful initiation becomes the weapon of deception towards their eventual victims.</font>

Madam M then resurfaces to enact many more killings with the same M.O. of vertebra massages going horribly wrong. Jack Chen is now hot on their trail as he asks for the help Charlene's mother Faye Ching (Pei-Pei Cheng, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) and finally he stumbles upon Charlene herself. Everything comes to a head by this stage with revenge becoming the primary motivation. The final battle between Charlene and a disgruntled Ryuichi (Andrew Lin, The Black Sheep Affair) will ultimately determine which one (or two) will survive the outcome of all this untimely death-dealing.

Video
As mentioned before, this movie marks a sort of turning point in the Hong Kong film industry now that they possess the Holy Grail of digital movie-making equipment. Both the video and audio in this usually uncommon Hong Kong production is first-class so now they will start turning heads in the international arena. If you can forgive the sometimes-unrealistic action then you will be in for one hell of a ride.

The image is astounding (for a Hong Kong flick). Depending on the scene in question, the colour tones range from cold blue to warm orange/red with the skintones generally reflecting the environments in which they reside. Whilst not razor-sharp, the picture is very detailed with just a few shots exhibiting an out-of-focus image that were most likely unavoidable due to the irregular filming conditions at the time. Grain is prevelant throughout but the bitrate is kept at a healthy 8-9 mbps so its effect is minimal to the viewer. Black levels are down there with the best of them with almost equally comparative shadow detail in all but a few key sequences with no low-level noise at all. There is hardly any film artefacts present but the occasional telecine wobble does come through in mostly unnoticable places anyway.

Audio
Now that Hong Kong is again learning from its Western cousins they can go about creating dazzling and glossy movies, especially with the wonderfully appealing soundtrack that Naked Weapon houses - the music perfectly complements the film with the sound effects being suitably over-the-top. This is actually an English-spoken production so it has somewhat ignored its Cantonese roots, but I'm sure this was done to test the international waters and discover whether they can compete on the overseas markets. Nonetheless, there are English and Cantonese dubs provided over the same brilliant music & FX mix in both Dolby Digital and Digital Theatre System incarnations (a total of four soundtracks for this DVD).

Naked Weapon (Platinum Edition)
If you don't have DTS capability then you don't know what you're missing. Whilst the Dolby Digital soundmixes will shake the dust around your six speakers, the DTS rendering will blow it all away. Dialogue is clear and mostly unintelligible except for the strange accents that are sometimes uttered (the worst of them actually coming from all the non-Asian actors, surprisingly). Most, if not all, of the dialogue was redubbed in the studio but even the same English-speaking parts tend to go terribly out of sync (more to do with the actor's difficulty in talking over their own voices).

The sound effects are what this DVD was made for with plenty of whooshing and explosive elements racing around the room with a pleasant holosonic experience in both the environmental and directional moments. The DTS mix in particular provides an extra depth, clarity and sparkle that puts the DD equivalent to shame unfortunately. The music too sounds like it had a production value way above what you would have expected on this budget with pumping techno-style musings for the action as well as quite moving orchestral pieces for the more emotional scenes. The subwoofer provides perfect support to all this aural cacophony with a thoroughly deep back-end complementing everything on-screen.

Obviously the sound department guys learnt much from their Hollywood masters and these incredible soundtracks should keep on coming. Hong Kong truly deserves an aural matching to its visual artistry.

Extras
It's understandable that HKL usually doesn't have enough material to fill up a whole DVD let alone two of them since there are usually no behind-the-scenes material made at the time of filming. Now that we're in the enlightened 21st century this might become a lot more common place now that Hong Kong has caught up with the likes of Hollywood. What we have here is different from what Hollywood delivers with much less of the irritating "he/she is great to work with" crap and more interesting insights into the creation of the film (regardless of how good or bad the end product is).

On Disc 1 there is just the one main extra (or two if you count the DTS soundtrack), an audio commentary with the effervescent Hong Kong movie mastermind Bey Logan and lead actress Maggie Q. These two bounce off each other like flubber and are very honest about their feelings towards this movie ... a little too honest actually. They make no effort to hide their opinions on the film's shortcomings but at the same time give credit where credit is due - it is certainly a refreshing change from listening to the undeserved hype that a filmmaker gives to their own movie. Maggie Q relates her experiences on filming certain sequences, especially the ones that were very challenging for her emotionally. Bey Logan actually takes a much-needed respite from quoting every single movie a particular cast or crew member has been involved with and starts to enjoy the banter with his conversation partner a lot more this time. Oh sorry, this disc also has a selection of trailers from other movies released by HKL and Premier Asia.

On Disc 2 is where all the goodies are kept and they run for almost twice as long as the feature itself. Some things tend to get repeated in places but they are not at all distracting. These are split up into four general groupings - Interview Gallery, Behind-The-Scenes, Promotional Archive and Data Files.

Naked Weapon (Platinum Edition)
In the Interview Gallery section there are talks with the delectable Anya Wu (18 mins), the admininstrator for Femme Fatale Corp Anonymous Almen Wong (16 mins), final bad guy Andrew Lin (17 mins) and chatterbox extraordinaire Monica Lo (12 mins). Each interviewee recaps briefly about their past experiences in and out of the movie industry then goes onto the movie's shoot with their fellow cast and crew members as well as expanding upon some of the characters in the film. Anya Wu's chat is probably the most informative for what happened on set & location. Almen Wong goes into the worst and best experiences of her filmmaking career as well as her personal association with Maggie Q. Andrew Lin reveals his accidental typecasting of villain for all his starring roles but reveals his true calling as a special effects make-up artist. Monica Lo discusses her part in the movie and also comes up with a few interesting tidbit’s about the most famous fat guy in Hong Kong, Sammo Hung (who's not involved here).

In the Behind-The-Scenes section there are three featurettes: A Day in the Life of Maggie Q (34 mins), Candid Camera (20 mins) and Location Guide to Naked Weapon with Bey Logan (9 mins). Maggie Q's daily ritual of Yoga, exercising with her pet dogs, massage, high-class cuisine, musical training, shopping, Wing Chun and socialising with her friends sure takes a lot out of you ... the poor girl must have a really hard life. This half-hour insight is a much different and more personal slant on what we usually see from an actor, it's more of a self-depreciation than a self-appreciation of one's talents. Candid Camera is a somewhat lengthy look at the involvement of everyone behind the camera when filming what might only be a 3-5 second shot of footage but when edited together will (hopefully) produce a seamless action sequence. The Location Guide has Bey Logan running around a few key locations in Hong Kong for mainly the interior scenes, but no mention is made of the island (or even possibly a section of beach) for Madam M's encampment stronghold.

In the Promotional Archive section there are four Teasers & Trailers for the movie in UK and Hong Kong variants (11 mins in total), another featurette entitled The Making of Naked Weapon (23 mins) and an Animated Photo Gallery (6 mins). The Making-Of is a general overview of what went into the movie's creation from casting, filming and production. The Photo Gallery basically zooms around the adorable Maggie Q in some key photographic poses as well as some promotional posters for the movie.

In the Data Files section there are four brief text biographies for Maggie Q, Andrew Lin, Anya Wu and Daniel Wu. This addresses in slightly more detail what they've been involved in around the movie and TV industry. The only gripe I have here is that there are no corresponding pictures of the person being mentioned, instead it shows other unrelated images from the film throughout the text that we read.

There are occasional mentions of scenes which were shot but not edited into the final film, but the only visual record I came across of these was in one of the featurettes where a female is doing ab-crunches upside-down on a bunk-bed and a couple of verbal mentions like a motorcycle being ridden by Anya Wu. It's a shame really that there wasn't a collation of these deleted scenes or alternate endings (or even a blooper reel) to be found here. Also, it would have been nice to hear from Jewel Lee who plays the cold-blooded Jing, but somehow I doubt that anyone would have had the guts even to be in the same room with her (just kidding, not). She is a champion Wu Shu practioner and as with all true martial artists would not want to discuss her craft lest she be seen as boasting about it, though it should be noted that she also doubled for much of the movie's female cast when her own character was not on-screen.

Naked Weapon (Platinum Edition)
Overall
It might not be common knowledge to everyone here, but Hong Kong cinema and Hollywood have been "borrowing ideas" from each other ever since Bruce Lee was a child.  In the 1970s, Hong Kong flicks quite often utilised the musical scores for their chop-socky flicks from many famous Hollywood movies including Star Wars if you can believe that. Nowadays, Hollywood has latched onto the visual stylings that have been the stable diet in Hong Kong for decades now, the most famous of these is of course the seminal fusion between Eastern action with Western production values entitled The Matrix.

It goes without saying that some of the acting, if not action sequences, undoes all the hard work that has been setup before it. But on the whole I was moved by the two main female leads who shared in each other's pain as well as their strengths to cope with the mutual ordeal experienced on the island. Overall, if you don't mind your action flicks stocked with enough cheese to fill up an entire dairy products store then you can't go wrong with this 2-disc DVD set, especially with the wealth of extras on offer.


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