Posted by: asianfilmreviews | February 13, 2009

Naked Ambition (2003)

Naked AmbitionNaked Ambition – 豪情

Director: Dante Lam (林超賢) and Chan Hing-Ka (陳 慶嘉)

Cast: Louis Koo (古天樂), Eason Chan (陳奕迅), Cherrie Ying (應采兒), Niki Chow (周麗淇), Josie Ho (何超儀), Jo Kuk (谷祖琳)

Naked Ambition, directed by Dante Lam and Chan Hing-Ka is a somewhat frustrating affair. What starts out as an interesting, and semi-biographical, look inside the Hong Kong sex industry ultimately fizzles out to a by-the-numbers, gender-insulting buddy film. This would perhaps be serviceable if the subject matter did not revolve around pornography or if the writers were smarter in dealing with such a sensitive topic. But as it stands in the film, men triumph in almost every respect while naive, immature girls are favored over stable and ambitious women.

Andy (Louis Koo) and John (Eason Chan), freshly fired from their publishing company due to economic difficulties, take matters into their own hands. Starting their own magazine, they turn to the one guaranteed success – pornography. Their decision to market pornography makes for a genuinely funny scene as it characterizes these young entrepreneurs as content creators relying on pornography-obsessed men just like themselves to make money. Check it out in the clip below. (Note: This clip has been slightly edited to make it safe for work, but you still need to verify your date of birth.)

When it is finally published, their magazine, called Passion, soars in popularity as an in-depth guide to Hong Kong prostitutes. But success eventually gives way to personal problems and infighting as Andy and John have a falling out over the direction their magazine is taking. By the film’s end, however, all the problems are resolved. But which problems? And how are they resolved? While the film does contain some smart moments like the above scene, it also leads to inescapable traps by which the filmmakers are absolutely pummeled. To begin with, pornography as a moral dilemma is largely sidestepped. The filmmakers seem more content with prolific visual (i.e., lots of nudity) titillation without really examining the positive and/or negative consequences of popular and widespread adult material, making for a rather uninteresting plot device. In other words, the filmmakers provide no insight into the nature of pornography in Hong Kong. It is there and characters simply accept it. This acceptance extends to pretty much every character in the film, which brings us to the film’s central female figures: the girlfriends. Naive to no end, despite knowing what Passion is about, the ladies in the film come out looking like complete imbeciles as their boyfriends fool around right under their noses. The audience blatantly knows, thanks to the above clip and other scenes in the film, that the last thing on John and Andy’s mind is monogamy, and this makes it all the more painful to watch these loving, stable, and financially supportive women suspect such obvious infidelity only to erase it from their minds when John and Andy make love to them. More on this in the next paragraph.

Easily the film’s biggest problem is that Andy and John are not likeable characters, despite their protagonist positions. Andy knowingly cheats on his girlfriend Pam (Cherrie Ying) with Kiki (Niki Chow), yet both he and John are portrayed as initially unwilling victims when confronted with the sexual advances of prostitutes like Titty Bird (Jo Kuk) and Tess Tickles (Josie Ho) (respectively), with whom they later have repeated sex with. John even lies to his girlfriend’s face when she asks him if he’s been unfaithful. And we’re supposed to root for them? Why, because they had a falling out and we want them to get back together? If the film teaches us anything, it is that no matter the occupation or endeavor, no matter the moral ambiguity, no matter a man’s relationship with and respect for his girlfriend or wife, anything goes when the spirit of brotherhood is on the line.

So the questions are posed again: which problems are solved and how does the resolution occur? The film largely abandons pornography as its central theme, despite the damage it did the image of the main characters and their on-screen relationships. John lies to his girlfriend to keep her while Andy realizes that the only girl he wants is one who needs him, not one he needs. But this does not matter, because we are instead made to care about an inevitable reunion between Andy and John. And when it happens, it is a pretty sappy moment made all the more ridiculous by everything that preceded it. But I guess this is what happens when one of the real life figures who inspired the film also wrote the dang thing.

Making matters worse is the appearance of Bey Logan, one of the banes of Hong Kong cinema due to his poor acting and even worse writing. Logan, responsible in some for or another for such mind-blowing travesties as The Medallion, Gen-X Cops, Gen-Y Cops, Dragon Squad (猛龍), and The Twins Effect (千機變), is at least partially to blame for the downfall of a once great and unbelievably prolific film industry, opting for cheap fads, gimmicks, and throwaway idols instead of relying on the real strengths of Hong Kong cinema in difficult times. In Naked Ambition, he is reporter Bill Nixon, interviewing Andy about his status as Hong Kong’s pornography king in an awkward mixture of stilted English and stilted Cantonese. It’s a performance that would make Michael Wong (王敏德) cringe in embarassment.

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