Nude Fear (1998)

Directed by: Alan Mak
Written by: Joe Ma & Susan Chan
Producer: Li Kuo-Hsing
Starring: Kathy Chow, Cheung Tat-Ming, Ruby Siu, Sam Lee, Matt Chow & Tse Kwan-Ho

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In 1978 Joyce finds her mother brutally raped and murdered and when the grown-up Joyce (Kathy Chow - Beast Cops) in her profession as a homicide detective stumbles upon a similar murder, the past comes to life again...

Not that I was fooled into buying Nude Fear due to its English title but beware that you'll feel cheated if tits and ass is on your viewing agenda. The choice to go with the film should rather be about examining the beginning's of Alan Mak, later achieving acclaim on his own for X'Mas Rave Fever, A War Named Desire and then some underground trilogy of films called Infernal Affairs. But overall his dual work with Andrew Lau on said trio of films have felt slightly as the years rolled by like Alan was being smothered and there has been more Mak-magic outside of the big projects instead. The excellent Media Asia production Moonlight In Tokyo had him share directing duties with Felix Chong and definitely felt like its own thing. Early on then, what's the verdict on this serial-killer thriller? Well, simply said it's a new kid trying out to be the boss without making much daring excursions and therefore Nude Fear only means it's the first of Alan Mak.

Imagine the feel of a fairly competent B or a TV-movie of this kind and you have categorized the proceedings pretty correctly. Competent doesn't equal memorable however and although created images at the beginning during the flashback where we witness the little Joyce in shock or simply not knowing what's happened to her still mother are unsettling as a concept, much gasp-effect is missing throughout the film.

Furthermore the script from Joe Ma and Susan Chan inspires little, creating types of the basic kind. You have Kathy Chow's Joyce as the stern, dressed in black female cop who will eat her instant noodles at home in front of crime scene photographs. And her being a loner as well add to the clichés not effectively handled or even tweaked. The odd bit of sexism at work and the tough shell breaking as the movie comes to the boiling point where obviously Joyce's past is going to play a part of the killer's grand scheme, what one should say about Mak's work is that he paces stuff just right though.

No lingering over details, graphic or not, just a to the point exercise that of course he hoped would have audiences thinking of Se7en but this perfectly constructed game by our usual mastermind criminal fail to resonate on that level. We ponder little why and how as we quickly jump forward in the narrative. Only occasionally do we think scenes of Joyce having to nurse a victim back to leading a normal life and an interesting interrogating technique amongst cops generating new places to head in the investigation are eye brow-raisers.

They certainly are and keeping a straight face throughout, there are worse, ill-balanced debuts out there but Alan Mak merely got a quick one out that had desires to pump the audiences senseless with its thriller/horror esthetics. Rarely successful but showing a competence that would pay off soon, his steady direction of lead Kathy Chow falls in line with the perfectly straight work Nude Fear manages to be but the talented actress is still stuck in a frame that won't linger. Shame for Kathy but Alan would go on feeling little shame when seemingly making features with his own touch. Quirky, dark or at the same time even. That we like.

The DVD:

Mei Ah presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.70:1 approximately. Print is clean, sports decent colours and clarity but no eye popping features here.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 option makes little use of the soundstage despite its intent to create gritty atmos. Sounds clear however. A Mandarin 2.0 track is also available.

The English subtitles are for the most part very error free and coheres completely. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Trailers for Nude Fear, Wild Search, Rumble Ages and an interview with actor Tse Kwan-Ho (no subtitles and running 6 minutes, 41 seconds) are the sole extras.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson