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Film Review: ‘3D Naked Ambition’

Chapman To stars in this witty if exhausting Hong Kong-produced sendup of Japanese pornography.

Chapman To, Josie Ho, Louis Koo, Taka Kato, Candy Yuen, Aoi Tsukasa, Yui Tatsumi, Nozomi Aso, Anri Okita, Maiko Yuki, Derek Tsang, Tyson Chak, Kanna Yume. (Cantonese, Japanese, Mandarin dialogue)

“3D Naked Ambition” is the stuff of male fantasy: A wussy Hong Kong man stumbles into Japan’s adult video (AV) industry and becomes a superstar. Yet, even with a crew of bona fide porn actresses strutting around, helmer Lee Kung-lok’s sex farce is more of a flamboyant floorshow for comedian Chapman To to hone his simpatico-sleazebag persona than anything hardcore or even erotic, serving up a spoof of AV conventions spiced with smutty schoolboy humor and film/pop-culture references. Local B.O. continues to firm up after the pic raked in $1.5 million in 11 days, despite being rated Category III (for audiences over 18). Festivals and Asian fanboys may be aroused by this curio, notwithstanding some sexist, racist undertones.

Scripted by Chan Hing-ka, “3D Naked Ambition” reps a sequel of sorts to “Naked Ambition” (2003), a satire of the sex industry helmed by Dante Lam and Chan. What makes the new film topical is the way it gives the finger to mainland censors, as its ribald subject matter and wall-to-wall profanity instantly disqualify it from China release. In a scene that mocks carpetbaggers enticed by the China market, the film paraphrases Haruki Murakami’s famous egg-vs.-wall speech (“I will always stand on the side of the egg”) to rally Hong Kong citizens to stand by their core values.

Wyman Chan (To, incorrigibly smartass) has just lost his job writing bodice-rippers for a seamy magazine. Seeking relief from his nagging g.f., Cecilia (Candy Yuen, memorably spiteful), a successful author of slushy romances, he joins his buddies on a trip to Japan. They’ve decided to “invest” in an AV production to enjoy all-you-can-ogle privileges, and seek the middleman services of expat Shidaiko Hatoyama (Josie Ho, who made her screen debut in “Naked Ambition”). However, when the male lead walks out rather than perform such positions as the “human helicopter” and “carnal pile-driver,” actress Yui Tatsumi suggests one of the investors take his place. The lucky guy is Wyman, but despite all his macho posturing, he wilts in Tatsumi’s professional but predatory embrace.

Wyman’s identity is outed when the AV goes viral. Unexpectedly, he becomes a legend, as Nipponese femmes adore his scaredy-cat expression, which subverts AV’s routine humiliation of women. Hatoyama becomes Wyman’s manager, masterminding his meteoric career in Japan under the stage name Mario Ozawa (a reference to AV goddess Maria Ozawa).
 Wyman apprentices himself with actor Taka Kato, known in the industry as “Goldfingers,” and his training hilariously culminates in an act of foreplay with a vending machine.

As befits its subject matter, there’s not much plot to speak of as Wyman moves from one film set to another, perfecting his helpless-prey shtick. One need not be an AV buff to to be tickled by how wittily “3D Naked Ambition” parodies classic themes from Nipponese erotica, such as school-matron body check, subway car molestation, or alien S&M attack. Still, it’s more fun for those who get the in-jokes and know who Nozomi Aso, Anri Okita and Yuki Maiko are. A session with coy newcomer Noriko (Aoi Tsukasa, angelic) even pans out into something achingly pure.

The tongue-in-cheek approach is reinforced by lenser Tam Wai-kai’s sensational zooms, while ace editor Curran Pang (“Infernal Affairs” trilogy, “Bangkok Dangerous”) keeps the pic moving at a fast clip. Even so, the plot doesn’t really branch out or raise emotional stakes: The climax, a showdown between Wyman and his rival Naoki Nagasaki (Louis Koo, who starred in and co-produced “Naked Ambition” with Chan) is devised as more of a random genre sendup, skewering J-horror, Kaiju movies and TV smash hit “Hanzawa Naoki.”

In his popular roles in “Vulgaria” and “SDU: Sex Duties Unit,” To has molded himself into a lecherous blowhard who’s really a shy, nice guy at heart. He again inhabits this role with gusto, but exhausts viewers by giving them no down time. Hatoyama’s cliched backstory and precarious affection for Wyman prevent her from blossoming into a lead character, and Ho’s ham acting is exacerbated by her grating adoption of a fake Japanese accent. The most memorable performance comes from Koo, a cocky upstart who remains a certifiable stud.

With only a smattering of location scenes in Tokyo, the film plunges viewers into an erotic La La Land. The 3D effects are not as protuberant as in other Category III pics like “3D Sex and Zen,” but they do enhance certain physical attributes. Andrew Wong’s production design and Tam’s lensing are colorfully kitschy. 
The Chinese title roughly translates as “Manly Feelings.”

Film Review: ‘3D Naked Ambition’

Reviewed at AMC Pacific Place, Hong Kong, April 14, 2014. (In Udine Far East Film Festival.) Running time: 106 MIN. (Original title: "3D ho ching")

Production: (Hong Kong) An 852 Films, One Cool Prod. Co., UA Films presentation of a 852 Films production with the support of Company Matsuo. Produced by Chan Hing-ka, Louis Koo.

Crew: Directed by Lee Kung-lok. Screenplay, Chan, Ho Miu-ki, Chou Man-you. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Tam Wai-kai; editor, Curran Pang; music, Day Tai, Afuc Chan; production designer, Andrew Wong; costume designer, Una Wong; sound (Dolby Digital), George Lai You-keng; visual effects supervisor, Jose Lai; visual effects, Film Magic, Digital Magic, Hopex VFX, MBS Studios; line producers, Esther Frances Chan, Chow You-shan; associate producer, Tang Wai-but.

With: Chapman To, Josie Ho, Louis Koo, Taka Kato, Candy Yuen, Aoi Tsukasa, Yui Tatsumi, Nozomi Aso, Anri Okita, Maiko Yuki, Derek Tsang, Tyson Chak, Kanna Yume. (Cantonese, Japanese, Mandarin dialogue)

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