Naked Weapon (HK 2002)

Rating: ****
Producer: Wong Jing
Director: Ching Siu Tung
Screenplay: Wong Jing
Cast: Maggie Q (Maggie Quigley), Anya, Daniel Wu, Jewel Lee, Almen Wong, Cheng Pei Pei

Very impressive. Veteran action director Ching Siu Tung pulls out all the stops with this reworking of Wong Jing's "Naked Killer" (1992), that proves there's still life in the Hong Kong film industry. It's films like this that got me into Asian cinema in the first place, and it's wonderful to see filmmakers getting back down to the basics. The mysterious Madame M (Almen Wong in a throwaway role) is kidnapping young girls from all over the world and brutally training them to become professional killers. Three girls manage to survive the training: Charlene (ferociously intense Maggie Q), Katherine (Anya), and Jing (Jewel Lee). A CIA agent named Jack Chen (Daniel Wu) has been trying to crack the assassin ring for six years, and gets a break when he runs into Charlene. Unfortunately for him, he can't arrest her and falls in love with her. As these types of movies go, Charlene takes on that fateful "one last mission," and everything goes to hell when a revenge subplot gets added to the mix. The bittersweet ending is sad, but appropriate for the genre.

First of all, let me just say that ALL of the girls in the movie are just freakin' AWESOME. The fight scenes are brilliantly staged, and the actresses handle Ching Siu Tung's choreography magnificently with stunning results. The women are also extremely intense and hard as nails, creating a tangible sense of dread, anxiety, and danger in their action scenes. I was on the edge of my seat for almost the entire film. Maggie Q is simply brilliant in her portrayal of Charlene, giving a deeply emotional performance as well as a breathtaking physical one. Anya plays Charlene's soul-mate and lover, and is one of the cutest and sweetest girls you'll ever see (even when she's cleaving people in two with a machete). Jewel Lee gives a wonderfully vicious and psychotic performance as Jing, and delivers some excellent displays of tai-chi and classical swordplay. Great stuff all around.

Daniel Wu is a strong and soft spoken hero, extremely professional, but with a sensitive emotional side. His kung fu scenes are also very good, and the chemistry between him and Maggie Q is tender and convincing. The cinematography and editing are superb, the music is great, and the production values are very high. The film was shot mostly in English with English speaking actors, but sometimes the post audio work doesn't quite match. There are also a handful of shoe discontinuities, but they're brief and fairly forgiveable. While many of the visual effects are cheezy and over-the-top, they work successfully on a visceral and emotional level. Additionally, Ching incorporates a lot of crazy wire stunts, but also keeps things very real by keeping people on the ground and shooting long, wide shots of full contact brawling. The film is shockingly nasty and brutal, and if I have one complaint at all, it's the inclusion of a rather unpleasant rape scene. While I understand the relevance to the plot, it was very uncomfortable to watch, and that alone makes it difficult to whole-heartedly recommend the film. Other than that, "Naked Weapon" is a superb piece of female action cinema that's well worth a look.