Although “Sometimes Scantily Clad but Never Naked Soldier” is more like it, “Naked Soldier” otherwise delivers the goods as a cheerfully ludicrous yarn about a globetrotting squad of sexy babes programmed to kill. Costume-designed to the max and starring Hong Kong legend Sammo Hung as a detective whose brainwashed daughter has received orders to eliminate him, the third entry in the “Naked” series initiated by producer-scripter Wong Jing in 1992 reps an appealing item for fans of old-school H.K. action-thrillers. Pic underperformed locally in its August release, but ought to pick up the slack with robust ancillary action elsewhere.
Setting what must be some sort of local record for the longest gap between franchise installments, “Naked Soldier” shows much less exposed flesh than “Naked Killer” (1992) and “Naked Weapon” (2002), presumably to conform to mainland censorship regulations. What remains consistent in this third episode, penned by creator Wong and directed by the capable Marco Mak, is the wildly fanciful plotting in a tale about deadly dames decked out in designer duds.
A 1980-set prologue shows ace detective Leung Chi-keung (Hung) pulling off “the world’s biggest-ever drug bust.” In retaliation, crimelord Brother Power (Anthony Wong) hires assassination-agency owner Madame Rosa (Ellen Chan) to massacre Leung’s family. Following a raid in which even a wheelchair-bound grandma meets a gruesome end, and hefty Hung proves he’s still nimble at the age of 59, Leung is left standing, while his 5-year-old daughter remains unaccounted for.
Cut to 1995, and Leung’s daughter, now named Phoenix (Jennifer Tse), has undergone memory-erasing treatment after being kidnapped all those years ago by Madame Rosa. Now an efficient and obedient killer, Phoenix is one of the boss’s star performers alongside Tokyo-based Selina (Ankie Beilke) and Ivy (Lena Lin), who spectacularly rubs out a hulking gangster in a Las Vegas hot tub.
Playing second-fiddle to the S&M-style latex-and-stilettos-clad femmes are male killers, including Black Dragon (Philip Ng), who sport hilariously over-the-top hairdos (think Village People in their “Renaissance” phase) and wear outfits evoking a mashup between “The Road Warrior” and Liberace’s dressing room.
The plot’s wispy strands come together when Cheung is assigned to help Interpol cop Sam Wong (Andy On) and sidekick Pete (Timmy Hung) track down Madame R. Naturally, that means the dragon lady dispatches Phoenix to rub out her father, building toward a showdown at Madame’s fortress on an island near Taiwan.
Wirework-heavy fight scenes directed by action ace Cory Yuen (“X-Men,” “Red Cliff”) are exciting and nicely framed to show full-length bodies in motion; the highlight is a terrific catfight between Phoenix and Selina on shifting wooden planks above a bed of upturned daggers. Just when auds might think they’ve seen all of costume designer Andy Daniel’s riotous collection, out leaps a squad of killers dressed in hot purple jumpsuits that could be considered too campy even for an “Austin Powers” movie.
Tse is a wooden heroine, but the rest of the cast is fine in roles ranging from caricatures to thumbnail sketches. Slick, color-saturated photography and a peppy soundtrack are standouts in a production that seems to be observing a motto along the lines of “too much is barely enough.” For the record, the title translates as “Weapon of Gorgeous Beauty.”