Naked Weapon
[Movie Review]

Since this is the first review I'm posting on NP, I'm going to explain how my review system works a bit. The problem with a lot of other reviewers out there is that they basically say whether or not they like the movie (or whatever the product is that they are reviewing). This is great if you, the reader, share the exact same tastes as the reviewer. It's not so great if you don't. Hence I'm going to write my reviews the way a teacher grades essays: I rate movies based on their technical and objective merits, rather than on whether it follows the type of genre I like or not. The way I go about this is to look at the movie from different angle, talk about how well it does under each criteria, and then assign a final grade. The first aspect I shall discuss is the "pre viewing experience", i.e. the hype and advertisement that surrounded the movie before I even actually saw it. This contributes very little to the final grade, but it works well as an introduction to the movie before the real evaluation begins.

Pre viewing experience: So somehow I found out that there's a movie out there called "Naked Weapon". And for some reason (never mind why), this title made me curious enough to find out more about the movie. Google turned up the official movie web page which, unfortunately, like so many other official movie web pages is entirely flash based. A cute touch is that they've put in a little fighting game (which I would later find out is supposed to be a reference to the prison fight scene in the movie). I found the fighting game really difficult, and it looks like the sprites for the opponents are recycled (and not particularly stacked), so I quickly grew tired of it. I don't know if, when you beat the game, you'll get rewarded with a strip dance scene or something, but I suspect that you won't. Browsing the screenshots reveals that the girls aren't the hottest I've ever seen, but the clothes are indeed skimpy (though they aren't naked as the title might imply). Reading a bit more, reveals that it's by the director of Jet Li's "Hero" and "Shaolin Soccer". Very interesting. The trailer hints that there's some nice gun action and fight choreography too. I was intrigued enough to get my hands on a copy and actually watch it. So what's the basic plot?

Plot Synopsis: Caucasian and Asian girls aged 12 to 13 who showed prodigal skills at martial arts are kidnapped and trained to be assassins. This isn't "Gunslinger Girls: The Live Action Movie", though: When the girls are actually sent out for assassination runs, they're well over 18. This means the movie can, for example, have them strip naked and have sex with the target before the actual kill and not worry too much about child pornography laws. Now I've always argued that you should judge the movie in the universe that it has created for itself (which is how I can meaningfully discuss the "believability" of a fantasy movie), so assuming that it really were profitable to train adolescent girls into assassins, does this movie's plot have any gaping holes?

Plot Believability: The girls are trained to be the world's most elite assassins, who should be able to, while unarmed, break into facilities flooding with assault rifle totting guards and slaughter everyone using only their hairpin, but they can't eliminate the brutes who are keeping them captive. And no, the brutes aren't making sure these girls don't have easy access to hairpins. Quite the opposite, they have free access to various blades and combat knives, both during training, and while lounging around in their quarters. Furthermore, after spending 6 years training 30-40 girls not only in armed and unarmed combat, but also how to identify expensive wines by taste and other information typically useful for passing off as a super-spy-connoisseur, they pit the girls against each other in a fight to the death to determine the "ultimate assassin". What a waste. Worst yet, the girls are trained to be ruthless killing machines, but girlishly cry "No, don't leave me! I can't lose you!" at the most inopportune moments (such as during a gun fight). And don't get me started on the guy who lays a trap for one of the assassin girls, and loads his sniper rifle, not with a bullet, but with a hypodermic needle loaded with an aphrodisiac.

Guns: There are pistols, submachine guns, shotguns, rocket launcher all within the first 7 minutes. However, that about does it for variety. No new class of weapons are introduced or significantly used at any later point, and they don't focus on the weapons enough for you to wonder (or care) "Is he using a Steyr Aug? Was she carrying an FN-P90?" In other words, there are decent (but short) gun fight, but it's not a movie for gun fans.

Martial Arts: Was this really made by the same guy who did Hero? There are a few good fight scenes, but there are a lot of mediocre ones too, with the final fight scene perhaps being the worst of them all. There's a nice variety of styles including two or three schools of Kung Fu, kickboxing, Tai Chi, Karate, brawling, Judo, Chinese-style sword fighting, generic neck/spine snapping stuff, occasional improvised weapons, Matrix style flips/cartwheels, and the occasional "throw dinner tables as if they were playing cards" super-human strength.

The final fight scene looks like just a disconnected sequences of shots. You get the feeling you're watching a demo for a stunt person rather than a continuous fight with story. Here's a few of the particularly bad transitions (or rather, the lack of a transition)

  • At the end of one shot, the guy judo-throws the girl flat on her back onto the ground; in the next shot, she's upside down in the air, about to get thrown onto her head.
  • After one particularly devastating kick, the girl lands about 3/4 of a meter away from the guy. When she gets up, she's 8 meters away.
  • The guy stands still for a second, the camera zoomed in on his calm and composed face, which then contorts as he yells at the top of his lungs, about to start a kick; when his leg actually rises through the air, the camera cuts to a full body shot, and you keep hearing the yell, but you see his mouth is firmly closed, as he tries to concentrate and get this difficult almost purely vertical kick done right.

There's a job in the movie industry that specifically watches for these kinds of errors. Because scenes are often filmed in a different order than the audience will see them in, you need a continuity checker to make sure that the stuff above doesn't happen. However, there was one mistake that I couldn't even attribute to having a lack of a continuity checker: You see a close up of the girl's hand closed, except for her index finger extended (in a "pull my finger" sort of pose) flying through the air with a dramatic "wind rushing through the air" sound effect going on, and when the attack actually lands, her hand is in Kung Fu's tiger claw pose. I wouldn't even have noticed this had they not made a such a big deal of specifically showing previously that her hand was not in a position to do any Kung Fu Tiger Claw Grip kind of attack. This isn't even an issue of forgetting to do continuity checking; it's an outright concentrated effort to create contradiction!

Then there's some issues with the editing: the guy does a mid-air "no shadow kick", and because it's happening in slow motion, you can very clearly see he's only landing 3 kick, and yet you hear 4 kicking sound effects. What gives? There's also a rip from Rocky in which the girl supposedly has her eyes bruised and swelling so bad she can't see anymore, except her eyes aren't bruised at all. It just looks like someone put some red eyeshadow on her. Given the matrix flips, slow motion, and obvious computer graphics used in this last fight, it's was obviously high budget. Why then, was it so dreadfully bad? Also the "moment of victory" music was sooooo cheesy, which leads me to the next section.

Music: A bit stereotypical at times (Gregorian chant to let you know this scene is taking place in Rome, snare beat during the military training scenes, piano and strings for the hero/heroine sex scene, etc.) but the action music does get your heart pumping. There's a nice mix of techno and rock filler, but nothing that'd make me want to find and buy the soundtrack. There's also a scene involving a phone booth and the soundtrack that the editor obviously had fun with.

Porn: Like I said, the girls' hotness levels are passable for an action flick, but if you're an anime fan, these girls would rate well below the norm. The army of 13 year old recruits are in khaki shorts and white tank tops, and they share beds. I felt like a pedophile. Some of the background (18/19 year old) Asians might have been a C cup. The lead characters are all around A cups (remember, they're Asian). You can expect: exposed breasts, wet t-shirt scenes, group shower scenes, nipples poking through shirt, down-the-shirt camera angles, group rape scenes (penises kept off camera), panty shots, stripteasing, etc. All of this just happens incidentally though, rather than replacing the plot, so I could see this movie getting an PG16 rating. It's a action film, not a porn film.

Violence: There are blood spurting out of entrance wounds filmed from a distance. When a 13 year old girl is killed, it happens off screen, and you hear the gunshot, but you don't see blood or anything. Contrast that to execution by swords, where you don't directly see dismembered limbs or anything like that, but you do see blood splattering. There is a pretty (conceptually but not graphically) sick scene involving stringing a tortured body up like a marionette, and making it dance. Except for that one scene, this movie is pretty standard as far as action movies go, perhaps even a bit on the tame side.

Dialog: Lines vary from "standard cheesiness for a unknown Asian action movie" to "cringe worthy" and "roll your eyes". Most of the time, they're in the latter end of the spectrum; and yet there weren't any "funny mistranslations" that tend to make Asian films so enjoyable. I'm not sure, but it looks like half of the scenes were filmed in English, and the other half in Cantonese. Either that, or some of the Asian actresses shaped their mouths in very strange ways, given the syllables they were trying to pronounce. There's a mix of British and Asian accents amongst the different characters which is rather distracting. There are a few lines that seem kind of pointless or outright stupid. Cop interrogating: "Can you tell me where the other girls are? Ah, forget it. I knew you wouldn't tell me." What is that supposed to be? Reverse psychology? Either way, she doesn't end up telling him anyway about the other girls. Assassin girl 1 explaining to assassin girl 2 why she's risking her life: "Don't worry. I know when to give life, and I know when to take it." Guy hiring assassin girl: "Since you have the balls to ask for more money, I know you won't fail."

Acting: The girls are a bit too smiley and cheerful for someone who has been kidnapped and brought to a deserted island for forced military training. Emotional lines are not delivered believably either. Otherwise, there isn't much to be said about the acting, as it is mainly an action movie.

Final Grade: The movie's title gave me low expectations. The trailer raised these expectations. The actual movie sunk them. Unless you're really a Asian movie buff, I recommend you just watch the free trailer and leave it at that. I give it a 4/10.

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1. Leafy Person said:
I went to the official film site because I couldn't believe that the director of Hero, who is as well known as Scorcese or Tarantino, would stoop to making such a sleazy sexploitation film. That's when I found out that the marketing people are trying to trick people into thinking that Zhang Yi Mou (the director of Hero) is directing this film. Actually the director of Naked Weapon is merely the stunt director of Hero, a complete unknown (and not even the fight choreographer of Hero, world renowned Yuen Woo Ping). Same for the reference to Shaolin Soccer, whose real director is the famous Stephen Chow. So you might want to alter your review accordingly to denounce such devious and dishonest marketing. Actually no, why don't you give just it a 1/10, plus a "F**k Y*u" for trying to deceive the public.
Posted on Tue January 4th, 2005, 12:31 AM EST acknowledged
2. Nebu Pookins said:

That explains the quality of the final fight scene (and perhaps of the movie in general). I don't think I shall change the final score of 4/10: That score was given based on the merits of the movie alone, and was not "artificially raised" because I had though big name director (Zhang Yi Mou or Yuen Woo Ping) had worked on it, so I don't think it would be fair to lower it just because a no-name director worked on it.

Posted on Wed January 5th, 2005, 11:06 AM EST acknowledged

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