Naked Ambition (2003)
Directed by: Dante Lam & Chan Hing-Kar
Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2004:
Going real on us like many Category III movies did in the 90s, now it's not a straight out of the headlines-crime being portrayed but Frankie Chung and his real life career as a publisher of an adult magazine. Told in flashback as Bill Nixon (Bey Logan, employing the Michael Wong technique to acting by mixing Cantonese and English) interviews Louis Koo's Andy, way back when him and Eason Chan's John both lose their jobs but decides after a failed independent attempt at a mag to go the commercial route by publishing their own porno magazine. With Louis Koo producing and Chan Hing-Kar as always for some reason co-directing (not ready for sole responsibility yet, sir?), with Dante Lam also on board it gives the impression that personnel has enough varied resumes to initially not feel like they're playing away from home. Rarely has the rise and fall of a friendship-story been as dull however, especially so since it all deals in porn.
A well-meaning and suitably structured screenplay from Chan Hing-Kar is never elevated. At points it seems like Lam and Chan are content with creating a cheap comedy but does gets in the odd comedic jab or two (especially in regards to the hooker's names and some neat verbal puns). But being dramatic in structure sinks this ship at the same time as friendship does. Fiction recovers, not the creators of it. Going into the movie-world, the nudity is so in your face initially it's all a bit uneasy, not sexy and very much the point that, the narrative really does scare us in another regard.
Because the pace at which Andy and John advance towards success is awfully quick and we're dealing with a 2 hour movie here! With the odd Dante Lam visual trickery and noises on the soundtrack to make us aware of his not always successful merger of storytelling and style, one of the bigger problems is finding any character anchor in Naked Ambition. It's friendship already in place as well as relationships when we meet all of them (no, a photo montage doesn't clear up loose ends) and Chan Hing-Kar's screenplay never uses the running time to go back and advance on setup. Instead we go on and on. It all also reeks of being rather questionable. Mostly focusing on Andy and John as advancing businessmen that has no real hesitance about entering the porn industry, never is that biz painted as anything but either wacky or featuring hookers with heart. The downside, the actual degradation could've been an examination amidst all this so indeed, a serious issue is exploited in favour of commercial cinema in a way that doesn't sit well (it could have). While Andy and John never turn into Bob Guccionne's of Hong Kong, seeing as Naked Ambition has greater goals you can't help but to feel a bit insulted.
Even if keeping it all within a comedy range with unashamedly low gags (Josie Ho's character is referred to as the Kenny G of hookers. THAT is funny), the film is decidedly low on stuff that tickles even. We all watch as the stuff is represented in an outrageous way and sometimes more low-key but the belief from the filmmakers that being frank sexually gets them comedic bonus points is one of many misguided choices throughout. As much as it wants to be a getting to know and feel your characters-piece, the subsequent expected structural dip into the life meaning of it all doesn't exactly provoke you to shout out "embarrassing!" but it's effort wasted when nothing is well setup. Our leads are some of the better cinema presences out of the pop stars/models/whathaveyou but neither Louis or Eason are anything but steered and therefore, it's yet another element of Naked Ambition that is stale. No, the rise, fall and mending of friendships created with cinema depth remains nothing but a dream for this flick, however naked Dante Lam and Chan Hing-Kar's ambitions were.
Panorama presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. A little print damage turns up at points but the print does well in most crucial areas without seeming like reference material.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 option has separation at a select few points only but remains a centered experience most of the time. Other options are Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1, Cantonese DTS 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1.
A few spelling errors pop up in the English subtitles but the translation is easily followed otherwise. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Trailers for Naked Ambition, The Spy Dad, Lost In Time and Hidden Track represent the sole extras offered up.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson