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Naked Ambition 3D
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by Jay Seaver

"More ambitious than the average sex comedy."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I wonder how many of the critics who regularly make sure to include something along the lines of "don't pay the extra for 3D, there's nothing that merits it" for seemingly every movie released in the format will pause when considering Anri Okita's L-cups in "3D Naked Ambition". After all, even someone who usually likes the format such as myself can find this to be a bit of a long hour-forty-five with glasses on despite the movie being quite funny, although it's hard to overlook things that make an impression.

Before those particular breasts are thrust into the audience, we're introduced to Wyman Chan (Chapman To), a writer of erotic fiction for a Hong Kong periodical, although his editor Larry (Tyson Chak) has to let him go. Commiserating with adult-video store owner Simon (Derek Tsang), they come up with a new idea - a tour of Tokyo where fellow AV fans can contribute ideas and watch a for-collectors-only movie be filmed. With the help of liaison Shodaiko Hatoyama (Josie Ho), things are going well until the actor storms off, at which point Wyman is drafted to fill in and... Well, things go off-script. This makes him a laughingstock back home, but is tremendously popular with Japanese women, so he starts a new career as "Mario Ozawa".

That screen name is a reference to a well-known actress in this genre, although not so well that I would have heard of her, not being the sort of aficionado that Wyman and his friends are. I suspect that there are a lot of gags in the movie that play to a knowledgeable audience, whether that involves familiarity with Asian porn or the sort of extremely local jokes Hong Kong filmmakers throw into Category III movies like this which they know stand no chance of getting past Mainland China's censorship board. I suspect most people who would be up for this will at least recognize the basis of the most frequently recurring gag - turning the tables on well-known AV scenarios to have "Mario" playing the victim of sexually aggressive women - just through osmosis. There's a surprising amount of teeth to it, actually, both for pointing out how repetitive the scenarios are and how ugly these fantasies are, even if there is something absurd about Wyman being overpowered.

Satire aside, this still has a bunch of laughs. Scratch the surface just a little bit and there's a good romantic comedy starring Chapman To and Josie Ho, even if the filmmakers mostly recognize that they're looking to do madcap and so kind of hit the brakes whenever they get near the sort of sincerity required for a solid romance to work. Instead, they mostly go for the gags, which are plentiful: Aside from the spoofs, Wyman gets himself into weird situations on a regular basis and is surrounded by similarly offbeat characters, leading up to a nonsensical but often hilarious finale when Louis Koo shows up as a rival.

Hong Kong has been putting these 3D sex comedies out for the last couple of years, but this seems to be the first with a legitimately first-rate cast. Chapman To has spent most of his career as a character actor, though he's been getting more lead roles of late, many of them in raunchy comedies such as this and Vulgaria, and he's got a great way of mugging through his bizarre scenes while still seeming grounded in a way audiences can identify with (he's also clearly hit the gym in preparation for this role, compared to some of the schlubby sidekicks he's played). Josie Ho, on the other hand, plays a character who is odd and sort of disreputable from the start, but who is able to sneak her way into making both Wyman and the audience fond of her. Louis Koo leaps into the movie during the third act and immediately starts chewing scenery, but that seems entirely appropriate. The rest of the cast is filled out by both Hong Kong actors having a lark and Japanese AV stars playing themselves, with Tako Kato as Wyman's "tutor" and Yui Tatsumi as the star of the first video having some of the funniest material.

This Naked Ambition is sometimes labeled a sequel to another movie with the same name from 2003, also written by Chan Hing-ka (he directed that one, though Lee Kung-lok does that job here), although there is no reference to the first one where Josie Ho and Louis Koo played entirely different parts. It's a bit laggy for a movie that is otherwise frantic at times, and while there are some nifty uses of the 3D shooting, it can be kind of fatiguing at times, especially if you're seeing it as the midnight showing after a long day as I did.

3D or 2D, early or late, it's still a sexy little comedy. Sure, one may be a bit inclined to feel a little guilty for getting some of the jokes, but there's no particular need for that; it's genuinely funny movie, with the three-dimensional curves only a part of its charm.

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originally posted: 09/14/14 13:21:55
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 New York Asian Film Festival For more in the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  N/A (MA)

Directed by
  Kung-lok Lee

Written by
  Hing-Kar Chan
  Miu-Kei Ho

  Chapman To
  Josie Ho
  Kato Taka
  Okita Anri

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