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Naked Ambition
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(top row, left to right) Louis Koo, Eason Chan and Cherrie Ying
(bottom row, left to right) Denise Ho, Jo Koo, Niki Chow and Josie Ho
Year: 2003
Director: Dante Lam Chiu-Yin, Chan Hing-Kai
Producer: Chan Hing-Kai, Amy Chin Siu-Wai, Louis Koo Tin-Lok
Writer: Chan Hing-Kai, Frankie Chung Kin-Keung
Cast: Louis Koo Tin-Lok, Eason Chan Yik-Shun, Cherrie Ying Choi-Yi, Niki Chow Lai-Kei, Josie Ho Chiu-Yi, Denise Ho Wan-Si, Jo Koo, Tats Lau Yi-Tat, Tin Kai-Man, Clifton Ko Chi-Sum, Lam Chi-Sin, Danny Lee Sau-Yin, Matthew Chow Hoi-Kwong, Yuri Komuro, Bey Logan, Fruit Chan Gor
The Skinny: Category III bio-picture/comedy is entertaining, though the end result is still somewhat questionable. The actors turn in fun, charismatic performances, and the film manages a humorous look at HK's sex industry. Still, despite some eventual moral murkiness, the film is superficial and even a little insulting.
by Kozo:

      The man with the tan, popular actor Louis Koo, takes on producing duties with Naked Ambition, an entertaining but problematic look at Hong Kong's sex industry. Based on the true-life exploits of co-writer Frankie Chung Kin-Keung, the film details the rise of two guys (played by Koo and Eason Chan) from lowly editors at a magazine to kings of the local porn industry. Along the way there's laughs, jabs at the porn industry, digs at their consumers, appearances by some comely Hong Kong actresses, occasional no-name skin, and then a final dip into the conflicts and moral issues that might arise from running your own porn empire. That's where Naked Ambition eventually derails. Directors Dante Lam and Chan Hing-Kai (who also co-wrote) let their film degrade from a potential satire into a pandering comedy-drama that touts the strength of brotherhood. Huh?
     John (Chan) and Andy (Koo) are two comic section editors for a local publication who get downsized unceremoniously. They join forces with some of their former colleagues to publish their own magazine, and use the savings of Andy's sweetheart girlfriend Pamela (the ever-charming Cherrie Ying) to fund the enterprise. Still, their first efforts aren't so well received, so they turn to the lowest common denominator: porn. With the bottom line as their guide, they decide to mimic Japanese sex guides and create their own inside look at Hong Kong's underground sex culture. The attempt turns out to be a success, and soon they start their way up the industry's food chain. They become a couple of guys who can make or break the fortunes of prostitutes, massage parlors, and gentleman's clubs across the territory, and as a result find an extreme amount of popularity. Before too long they're the toast of their particular niche market.
     The details of John and Andy's rise from nobodies to porn superpowers are actually telling and quite funny. After publishing a negative review of a particular establishment, they're approached by triads (led by Tats Lau) who are unhappy with how they were rated. Some of the prositutes Andy and John profile become celebrities after seeing print. One (Jo Koo) gets lazy and resorts to using a stand-in, meaning complaints to the magazine that they're falsely informing their readers. Another (Josie Ho) gets high marks for her fellatio technique, which leads to more business than her jaw can handle. While off-color and sometimes tasteless, the jokes lampooning the sex industry do entertain in a self-deprecating, dirty sort of way.
     But random observations about the wacky life in the porn business can only get you so far. Our heroes(?) do make it big, but what are the repercussions on their personal lives? Andy has the innanely supportive Pamela at home for him, and John has steady girlfriend Fanny (Denise Ho), who also works for the magazine. Given the fact that they're red-blooded males who rub elbows with sexually active AND alluring females every day, you'd expect SOMETHING to occur. Which it does. John and Andy may not intend on straying from their significant others, but they eventually do with sometimes pronounced glee. Look at it this way: if you set some kids loose in a candy shop, THEY WILL eat the candy. The morality of their business always seems to be etched in stone, i.e. the guys are doing it for the money. But, when your daily business leads you into personally compromising positions, something's gotta give.
     Something does give, though it's not John and Andy. Their personal lives take hits, but those losses are lingered on with only the bare minumum of attention. More attention is given to what happens between John and Andy, which is the usual rivalry one would expect from two buddies who make it big. Andy has always been the top man, and eventually John chafes at being second banana. The two fight, part ways, and eventually meet once again, but by the time all that happens, one has to wonder: is this why we're watching this movie? To witness the affirmation of friendship between two guys who let their libidos ruin their personal lives, when frankly they should be given good beatings? Naked Ambition never seems to moralize, but the picture it paints isn't very comforting. Basically, these two heels regularly cheat on their better halves, the result of which is heartache (Andy eventually realizes that Pamela is the one he really loves) or even more lies (John lies bold-faced to Fanny about his straying ways). Then they take out their problems on each other, kiss and make up, and we're supposed to be happy?
     Granted, not every movie should be a family-friendly counsel on how to run our lives the prescribed Christian way, but the filmmakers do their audience a disservice by routinely running away from any and all tough conflicts. Louis Koo's Andy is a slimy guy, but he's eventually given a pat on the back for his "integrity" in the ways of journalism. Likewise, Eason Chan's John gets away with adultery, and he's still supposed to be a great guy. That the two fellows remain friends is supposed to be the payoff of this two-hour commercial for the Hugh Hefner lifestyle, but shouldn't there be more at stake than the buddy-buddy relationship of two cheaters? Louis Koo and Eason Chan do play their roles with likable smarmy charisma, but that doesn't change the fact that they're total heels.
     With the above in mind, Naked Ambition ultimately comes off as somewhat superficial. It explores a ripe subject, but only milks some fun laughs out of it. At the very least the actresses turn in some fine supporting work. Josie Ho is impressive in a rather sordid role, and Jo Koo and Niki Chow are animated and sexy. It's a shame that the females are pushed behind the males in this story, because they're infinitely more likable than the guys leading the way. Where Naked Ambition fails is not in its fun factor, as it provides eye candy and dirty laughs for fans of the stars. Where it does fail is in its handling of the subject matter, which could have been so much more than a slight biopic celebrating the brotherhood of two bozos. Those themes shouldn't be surprising, as they've been shoehorned into nearly every film made by writer/director Chan Hing-Kai since 1996. Well enough is enough; someone should let him know that it's time to find some new material. (Kozo 2004)

Awards: 23rd Annual Hong Kong Film Awards
• Winner - Best Supporting Actress (Josie Ho Chiu-Yi)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC (Marked as Region 3)
Panorama Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
English and Cantonese Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

images courtesy of Panorama Entertainment Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen