Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Naked Killer (1992)

Princess (Carrie Ng), a ruthless professional assassin, kills some random thug (who wears a denim vest with one football shoulder pad on it, apropos of nothing) by smashing his head with a couple of dumbbells and then shooting him in the junk.  Detective Tinam (Simon Yam), a cop who accidentally shot and killed his own brother causing him to vomit whenever he draws his gun or has a gun pointed at him but is okay just being around guns (which makes you wonder how he gets ready for work in the morning), is on the case.  He meets violently cute with Kitty (Chingmy Yau) at a salon, and falls in love with her.  Kitty, in turn, is taken under the wing of Sister Cindy (Wai Yiu) and trained to be a killer.  But Princess and her own protégé/lover Baby (Madoka Sugawara) come into inevitable conflict with Sister Cindy and Kitty, and it’s pretty much game on.

Clarence Fok Yiu-leung’s Naked Killer (aka Chik Loh Go Yeung) is a Category III film that, from what I’ve been able to gather, has been plagued by censorship issues ever since it was produced.  In fact, I had to watch two versions of it to get a whole idea of what was going on in it.  Both of these versions are available on Youtube, but the quality is garbage, so be advised should you decide you want to check it out from that source.  The shorter version I saw (about sixty-nine minutes, fittingly enough, though the video is listed at around one hundred minutes, but all it does is restart the movie from the beginning for that last half hour) contains a couple of scenes that bond Sister Cindy and Kitty together, but it cut out all of the sex scenes and some of the violence.  It’s a real butcher job.  The longer version I saw (about eighty-nine minutes) contains the sex and violence, but it inexplicably cut the aforementioned scenes between Sister Cindy and Kitty.  The funny thing is, I enjoyed both versions immensely.  Sure, the shorter version is exceedingly difficult to follow, but it maintains the kinetic, imaginative camerawork of the longer version.  The camera whips around during the action scenes.  Often, Dutch angles are used, imbuing the film with a comic book atmosphere.  The stuntwork is top notch, with characters flipping and yerking thither and yon through the frame.  Both versions also have a charm that rests largely on the shoulders of Yau, who is adept at being sexy, mean, and coquettish, all at the same time.  The rest of the female cast are up to the task as well, don’t misunderstand.  But it’s Yau’s acting in combination with Yiu-leung’s direction that raises material which is both run-of-the-mill and offbeat and could as easily have been a disaster as anything else (I’ll theorize here that the same could be said for just about every Category III film).

Naturally, when you have female assassins in a film the emphasis on sex, specifically as it pertains to how the hitwomen are displayed, is amplified, something films about male assassins never have (at least to my knowledge, although I guess something like Crying Freeman may be an exception).  This philosophy is perfectly summed up in two scenes between Sister Cindy and Kitty.  In the first, Cindy admonishes Kitty for taking too long to kill a pedophile, stating that a woman’s body is as much a weapon as a gun or a knife.  In the second, she proves this ethos by seducing a pair of perverts and then snapping their necks. 

The film’s sexuality works in several ways.  First, there is its usage as retaliation against misogynists.  When we first meet Kitty, she stabs a male hair stylist for beating his pregnant girlfriend (he even kicks her in the stomach, just in case we might accidentally sympathize with him).  Soon after, she murders the man who cuckolded and killed her father, even stabbing his penis with a pencil at one point (I think it was a pencil).  Princess and Baby make a habit of mutilating their male victim’s genitals, and while Kitty has been known to mess with men’s wedding tackle, for her this is borne out of anger; for Princess and Baby, it’s sadism.  Kitty and Cindy, while acting in their professional capacity, kill men violently, but it’s not personal; it’s just business with style.  Second is the relationship between Kitty and Tinam.  Kitty feels bad for Tinam because of his newfound aversion to gun violence.  As the two come together (quite literally), they heal each other (sort of), and this relationship gives Kitty a heteronormative path to what happiness she is allowed within the story.  

Which brings us to the third and most important point.  The females in this film, with the exception of Kitty, are lesbians, and there is a sharp line drawn between this lifestyle and that of heterosexuals.  Princess and Baby have sex that is cold in every way but the physical.  They do it in a swimming pool filled with one of their victim’s blood, for example.  This is transgressive while also playing to the audience’s prurient interest (remember, this is still a Category III film).  The division between homo- and heterosexuality is best depicted in an intercut sex scene, featuring Tinam and Kitty on one side and Princess and Baby on the other.  The shots of Tinam and Kitty are well-lit, almost glamourous, with lots of closeups, and the two are sharing in each other’s bodies, committing to each other.  The shots of Princess and Baby are in a dark, dank setting, with the bed at an odd angle to the camera’s lens, and the camera itself at a distance from its subjects.  There is no true intimacy here.  It is also unsatisfying for both of them, because the two cannot connect on a human level.  Sister Cindy lies somewhere in the middle.  It is clearly implied that she had a sexual relationship with Princess (they share a significant smooch later in the film), but we can assume that their breakup had something to do with Princess’ predatory, cruel worldview.  Cindy’s relationship with Kitty is different.  She feels a sisterly/motherly connection with her young charge, and the two discuss things openly.  It is possible that Cindy wants an amorous relationship with Kitty, but she won’t force it, and she is just as happy (probably moreso) in their platonic, teacher/student kinship.  Even though the film leans more toward heterosexuality being the acceptable form of love, Sister Cindy helps balance the scale by being able to exist in both worlds.  She is the most stable of the women, being a lesbian but not a rapacious one like Princess while also being a friend and mentor to Kitty, who could certainly use the guidance.  Sure, Sister Cindy still wants to kill Tinam, but it’s in the service of professionalism rather than jealousy.  And isn’t that what friendship is all about?

MVT:  The four women in this film are fantastic, in my estimation.  As talented physically as they are astoundingly attractive, each of the actresses gives their character a strongly defined personality, and this really aids Naked Killer in separating itself from the crowd.

Make or Break:  The opening assassination sets up everything the film needs to get moving, being stylish, sexy, hyperviolent, and ridiculous simultaneously.

Score:  7.25/10     

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