Naked Killer

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Take a large helping of Basic Instinct, toss in some Nikita, and just a pinch of obscurer works such as Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan. Toss into the blender, and crank up to 11. The story concerns Kitty (Yau); when she goes to take revenge on the gangsters who killed her family, she crosses paths with Sister Cindy (Yao), a hitwoman who only takes out male scum. She saves Kitty and trains her as a new apprentice, despite the close attentions of cop Tinam (Yam), besotted with Kitty. He has a murky past, and throws up every time he holds a gun, since he accidentally shot his brother. Which isn’t good, especially when Cindy’s last apprentice, Princess (Ng) and her sidekick Baby (Svenvara Madoka) come back for tea and revenge…

It’s a script by Wong Jing, about whom opinion is sharply split. Some HK cinema fans regard him as a talentless hack, leaping on trends and churning out dreck purely for the money – the IMDB currently gives him 85 directorial credits. However, he’s had a hand in more of my favourites than any other film-maker: God of Gamblers, City Hunter, The Magic Crystal, Tricky Brains, New Legend of Shaolin, so I’m a big fan. Here, though not officially in the chair, I sense his hand was not limited to a writing role, not least because, at the time he was, ah, “seeing” Chingmy Yau.

Whoever the auteur, the result is one of the more delirious and mad entries in the girls-with-guns genre: much as Suspiria nails a dreamlike quality in the horror field, so does Killer for action heroines. It’s a nightmarish version of the war between the sexes: murder isn’t enough for our assassinettes, castration also seems to be required, while Cindy keeps a basement full of drooling rapists for training purposes and, I sense, doesn’t really feel the rest of mankind are much better. Much the same depth (or lack thereof) applies to all the characters: the women are largely man-hating lesbians; the men, bumbling idiots.

It all looks superbly stylish, thanks in part to cinematography by Peter Pau (Crouching Tiger) – though no-one seems certain whether he shot the movie, or just the supercool trailer, which has a whole bunch of stuff that never appears in the actual film. But regardless, the action (even though the starlets lacked much of a martial arts background, they’re pretty impressive), costumes, dialogue, characters and storyline all mesh elegantly into a whole that is undeniably exploitation cinema at its finest.

Ng, in particular, nails her part with a relish that’s just fabulous, but Kelly Yao also does surprisingly well – her role is perhaps the most pivotal in the plot, and she’s required to do more than look pretty, which she does with a maturity and confident poise that borders on the balletic. Yau is about the closest to a sympathetic character the film has, being largely the victim of unfortunate circumstances, while Yam has pretty much made a career out of playing the troubled cop, and could do this kind of job with his eyes shut. Indeed, given the vomiting required, he largely does.

But in this film, there’s no doubt: this is a women’s world, and any men in it are barely tolerated, as long as they behave themselves and cause no trouble. You could debate the gender politics on view here almost endlessly, but one seriously doubts Wong Jing had the slightest interest in this angle, any more than the late Russ Meyer viewed Faster Pussycat as a stirring tale of female empowerment. The viewer is, naturally, free to take whatever party favours away they want; just don’t seek to impose such high moral thoughts on those of us who are simply after a head-spinning dose of dubious entertainment.

This one is best enjoyed – indeed, perhaps only truly enjoyable – after a 16-oz steak and several alcoholic drinks of choice. Sprawl on the couch with your head gently spinning, and enjoy the heady excesses as they unspool. The term “Cat. III cinema” (the HK version of an R-rating) means many things, and covers much territory, both good and bad; this is firmly at the upper end of the spectrum, and combines sex and violence in a giddy way rarely seen in Western cinema.

[A couple of caveats: be careful of the version you buy: the Fortune Star version released in the US through Fox is heavily cut, both for sex and violence. Oddly though, some parts that have been removed (such as bits from Baby’s pool assassination) turn up as background in the interviews. Go figure. It’s hard to work out why they were removed, especially when they left in the “hilarious” scene in which a severed penis is mistaken for an undercooked sausage. The Region 2 DVD from Hong Kong Legends is probably the best way to go, if you have a multi-region DVD player. Also avoid any dubbed version; even by the usual low standards of such things, the English track is awful.

And don’t get reeled in by the sequels in name only, which redefine suck to almost unexplored depths. You’d think that with a title like Naked Killer 2: Raped by an Angel and a cover like this, you could hardly go wrong. You will learn, very quickly, exactly how it’s possible: in my other incarnation, I wrote, “I can forgive many things in a Cat. III film; but boredom is not one of them,” which should be sufficient warning to stay well clear.]

Dir: Clarence Fok
Stars: Chingmy Yau, Simon Yam, Kelly Yao (Wai Yiu), Carrie Ng

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