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Art house: Naked Comes the Huntress

Paul Fonoroff

 

Its quaint title to the contrary, Naked Comes the Huntress is more a hybrid kung fu murder mystery than a primal sex romp. Set before the second world war in a mountainous northern Chinese locale, the 1978 Golden Harvest production is a well-crafted example of medium-tier Hong Kong martial arts cinema.

It came on the eve of the "new wave" that transformed the local film industry in the late 1970s and '80s. Huang Feng was among the directors swept out by that wave.

Until Naked Comes the Huntress, he had built a reputation as a dependable if not especially creative action-oriented filmmaker and promoter of young talents.

As the eponymous Mien Mien - the "Mink Girl" who entices such creatures by lying on the snow wearing only a jade bracelet and leather boots - Korean starlet Carrie Lee Ying-ying delivers a laudably restrained performance, in which her wide-eyed innocence is never compromised by her sometimes bared body.

The script was co-authored by the director and Ni Kuang, and contains a few unexpected twists and turns. It follows three adventurers (Chen Sing, James Tien Chun and Wong Ching) as they try to make a fortune gathering ginseng and pelts in China's rugged frontier.

The film's early hallmarks of a Manchurian-style The Treasure of the Sierra Madre soon give way to homicide after Mien Mien's father (Wang Hsieh) betroths his daughter to one of the trio, not knowing she already has a lover.

But the movie is more than a mere tale of greed and lust, with a crime-solving finale in which famed composer Ng Tai-kong strikes psychological notes with a percussive score. The narrative is ambitious in its introduction of Buddhist elements within the context of a labour colony at a remote temple. Its inmates are overseen by a corrupt monk (Korean actor Choi Mu-wong) in a milieu that mirrors some of the less savoury aspects of modern mainland China's penal system.

48hours@scmp.com

 

Naked Comes the Huntress, April 19, 7.30pm, HK Film Archive. Part of The Cinematic Matrix of Golden Harvest programme

 

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