The cat-suited women in Clarence Fok Yiu-leung’s Naked Killer (Chiklo Gouyeung) are extremely dangerous. Man-hating lesbian assassins take center stage in this exploitation joint, which showcases much of what the Hong Kong style action film does so well: flamboyant fight sequences, quick cuts, reversals, ingenious weaponry, and sex.
But Naked Killer is different from similarly conceived action flicks in its complexly rendered gender politics, which oscillate between empowering and exploiting its female centers. Men who routinely victimize women—here, “playboys” and “rapists”—are punished for their sins by avenging female assassins. Accordingly, sexual relationships excluding men (say, lesbians) are portrayed as “man-hating,” deviant, and dangerous. Just as wicked men are disciplined, so too are women who violate sexual conventions.
The disjointed plot revolves around Kitty (Chingmy Yau), who takes up assassination after the brutal murder of her father. Seeking revenge, she finds herself in over her head and seeks training from killer-for-hire Sister Cindy (Svenwara Madoka). Kitty crosses paths with Tinam (Simon Yam), who’s investigating a string of gruesome murders marked by the complete dismemberment of the male victims. Predictably, Tinam develops a crush on Kitty, who turns out to be one of the killers he’s pursuing. Then things really get complicated.
After Kitty and Sister Cindy kill a Triad boss, unseen Japanese businessmen take out a contract on their lives. The assassins paid to do the job? Cindy’s former student Princess (deliciously played by Carrie Ng) and her lover, Baby (Kelly Yiu). All this leads to a showdown among the four assassins, which frankly looks like softcore porn.
Fok flings stereotypes as proficiently as his characters fling knives on strings. The women form a continuum of female identities: Princess hates men and kills with a kiss; Baby is pert, infantile, and sexually submissive; Sister Cindy straddles the line between mentor and lover with both Kitty and Princess; and Kitty is at once docile and unpredictable, prone to lapping milk and purring on command, but also lashing out sporadically.
In lining up such images, Naked Killer is an old-fashioned exploitation film, extolling male mastery of sexy female bodies. But it also invokes the specter of that mastery’s failure, usually by some kind of castration. Tinam has been rendered impotent after the accidental shooting of his brother and vomits every time he pulls his weapon. The lesbian assassins are always sure to remove their victims’ “manhood,” and repeated scenes feature reverse-rape-type penetrations: men are impaled, stabbed, and eviscerated in a variety of gory ways.
The story is a cautionary one: women who abandon sexual and social convention will suffer, and men who allow women to control them will be killed, or worse, castrated. Kitty finds redemption in Tinam, who garners power from her—sexual and investigative—as he “turns” her from lesbianism. By embracing her heterosexual love for Tinam, Kitty gains her own brief reprieve. And by controlling her, Tinam regains at least part of his masculine authority.
Fortune Star’s recent DVD release of Naked Killer includes features that underline the film’s charm and complexity. The well edited and composed “Hong Kong beauty stars photo gallery” highlights Hong Kong actresses in a variety of films, drawing attention—however obliquely—to the film’s representations of women.
In addition, the package includes both the original trailer for the 1992 theatrical release and the updated version. The 1992 trailer features the original theme song over a montage of sex and violence, while the updated version uses a clichéd guitar-driven rock and a very different montage that oversimplifies the plot and focuses more firmly on Kitty as the film’s driving force. The difference between the two reflects cultural changes over the past 10 years, particularly as women have become action movie leads.
Fortune Star’s marketing of the film takes advantage of the growing popularity of Asian film in Western (particularly American) markets. Rather than retranslating or updating for the DVD release, this package keeps the often inadvertently humorous language features: the dubbing is badly timed and acted, and the English subtitles (which is the better way to view the film) are strangely translated—such as when one man calls another an “arse thief”—only enhancing the film’s eccentric appeal.
Naked Killer never mistakes itself for art; rather, it is artful camp. Fok’s direction is visually dynamic, with odd camera angles, quick cuts, and the occasional surprisingly artistic touch, such as the James Bond-style opening sequence that features all four female assassins draped in blood-red fabric. The fantastic sets and vivid colors combine with the outlandishly entertaining action sequences to create a fully realized comic book world. And the over-the-top performances—Princess chomping on a cigar as she taunts Cindy, Tinam writhing on the ground as he endures flashbacks of his brother’s murder—accentuate the film’s campy exaggeration. Naked Killer is definitely not politically correct, but it is surprisingly political.