Naked Soldier

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Ten years after Maggie Q got her career as an action heroine kickstarted with Weapon, and twenty after Killer rampaged its way into cult status, Jennifer Tse takes over – bearing more than a passing resemblance to her predecessor, I think. I think it’s kinda cool how the series gets revisited every decade, regular as clockwork: maybe famed producer Wong Jing has a house payment to make or something? Admittedly, there’s not much more than a tangential connection between the entries; three different directors, three different stars, and not much overlap in terms of plot. However, they still share a common approach, fetishising the female form and the act of assassination, with no shortage of style, and are the longest-running (in terms of years) GWG series around.

The story of this third installment opens with a prologue from 15 years ago, when Interpol agent CK Long (Sammo Hung) intercepts a $35 million shipment of drugs. As punishment, its owners unleash Madam Rosa and her killers on him, as he enjoys a nice family Christmas in Florida: most of his relations are killed, Long barely escapes with his life as his house is blown up, but watches as his daugher is whisked away by Rosa, to be brainwashed and trained as one of her army of assassins. Back in the present, Rosa is now sending our her minions to kill the five leaders of a proposed international drugs cartel. Long is assigned to the cases, because of his familiarity with the way Rosa operates, and is startled, to say the least, when DNA testing shows one of the killers appears to be his long-lost daughter. Not as startled as he will be, when she turns up in his apartment, with murder in mind. Naturally, his investigating partner (On) meets Phoenix in her undercover role as a student, and falls in love with her, at a speed only ever seen in movies more concerned about action than relationships.

There’s a lot to enjoy here, not least the presence of Hung, who has always been an under-rated talent in my eyes. He’s pretty damn sprightly for a 60-year old: a step slower perhaps, but there are still moments to treasure here, such as the chopstick duel with his other daughter. He served another important purpose here: for my wife, his early presence legitimized watching a film called Naked Soldier, which I suspect might otherwise have led to some dripping sarcasm – even though she remembered and enjoyed Weapon, and as in its immediate predecessor, the actual nudity in this is confined to the title. There’s another veteran of HK cinema who shows up at the end. While I’ll avoid spoilers, it was someone whom we were equally delighted to see – even though he was single-handedly responsible for putting Chris off Chinese food for a year!

However, these are supporting roles and here, we’re more interested in how Tse and the other ladies acquit themselves. And there are a number on both sides, even if, early on, things do move relatively slowly into gear. Despite token male killer, Black Dragon, Madam Rosa still has her admirable fondness for female assassins, and we see them in action early on as Ivy, Selina (Beilke) and Phoenix carry out their missions in a Vegas hotel, boxing gym and at a funeral respectively. [Selina’s viciousness is quite belied by her final haircut, which appears to have come straight from a Flock of Seagulls fan convention!] One of their targets is an ass-kicking Thai gangsteress, who teams up with a gay Dutch guy against one of the assassins, in a nice handicap brawl at a boutique.

naked_soldier_ver2_xxlgIt’s mostly the end, when Long, his daughter and Phoenix head off to Madam Rosa’s island, that things really kick in, as it turns out that betrayal is a two-headed beast. There, we get an excellent series of battles: one-on-one, two-on-one, many-on-one, that mor than make up for the relatively relaxed pace over the first hour or so, and feel like a throwback (not least becauge of Hung’s presence). Corey Yuen does the action: his track record speaks for itself, with solid action heroine entries such as So Close and D.O.A. on his resume, and this would be another. There’s plenty of variety and invention on view, up to and including the climactic battle between Phoenix and her nemesis, on one of the lethal training apparatus in Rosa’s lair.

There are some negatives, not least Long’s daughter, who serves little or no purpose beyond unfunny comedy, and appears to be played by an actress significantly older than she needs to be. And certainly, aspects of this don’t make much sense. For instance, why did Rosa’s efforts at revenge take a sabbatical for 15 years, after having killed everyone but her intended target? Or why are proceedings supposedly set in 1995, when it obviously isn’t 1995, for example, the tech everyone uses? However, there’s nothing a genre fan won’t be able to overlook, and plenty they’ll be able to appreciate, making this a worthy entry in the series: I wouldn’t mind if they skipped the 10-year waiting period for the next entry. Failing that: roll on, 2022!

Dir: Marco Mak
Stars: Jennifer Tse, Sammo Hung, Andy On, Ankie Beilke

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