It’s been an odd week. On Monday, we posted my review of R100, a film so crazy it inspired a man to eat his shirt. On Tuesday, we posted my review of Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, a film so insane that it inspired a man to make a shirt-eating bet in the first place. But those were warm ups. What I was really doing was priming myself to write about quite literally the weirdest movie I have seen in my entire life: 3D Naked Ambition.
I always kind of expected the weirdest movie ever to be from Japan. I mean, that’s where the previously two mentioned films and other bonkers stories like The Warped Forest came from. That movie has fruit with actual vaginas.
But 3D Naked Ambition has risen to the top. How, you might ask? Well…
[For the next month, we will be covering the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival and the Japan-centric Japan Cuts. Click here for more information, and check back here and here for all of the Asian film coverage you can shake a stick at.]
3D Naked Ambition
Director: Lee Kung-lok
Rating: NR (18+)
Country: Hong Kong/Japan
Two years ago, Pang Ho-Cheung’s excellent Vulgaria (starring Chapman To, who leads 3D Naked Ambition) opened my eyes to a new world of sex comedies, ones that are dirty in concept but clean in practice. I don’t know for sure if actor nudity is disallowed, but I can say that I’ve never seen a HK actor properly naked or an actress in any serious state of undress. During sex they wear shirts and in any other case there are plenty of ways they’re covered up.
In my reviews of Vulgaria and others (like Golden Chickensss), I noticed the trend and even commented on it, but in reality I find it kind of compelling. It’s like watching an American comedy from during the Hay’s Code era, back when implication was everything. While obviously more explicit than those films, the HK comedies have a similar need to conform around standards while trying to push the envelope. I assumed that it was actually a grander requirement of Hong Kong films: If they wanted a release, no nudity allowed.
Apparently that’s not quite the case, because 3D Naked Ambition has a whole lot of exposed breasts. But there’s a loophole: each and every one of them is Japanese. Hong Kong actresses still cover up (with one sorta-exception) and the Japanese ones bare it all. And by all, I only mean boobs, because actual genitals are still disallowed (in both Hong Kong and Japan). It’s an interesting use of another culture’s more lax laws, and – as far as I know – unique. (Golden Chickensss is also partially set in Japan but lacks nudity.)
3D Naked Ambition tells the story of Wyman Chan (Chapman To), a sex writer who is fired thanks to all of those dirty ingrates on the internet who refuse to pay for quality content. But unable to believe that paid-porn is dead, he gets together with some friends and they head off to Japan to make some AVs AKA Adult Videos AKA pornography. As you might expect, the decision to switch to that was a pretty simple one: They wanted to get free access to people having sex. As producers, they get to be on set and push the actors and actresses into whatever weird contortions they so choose. They’re horny and excited.
But they push the actor away with their requests for positions that may or may not exist/be possible. He simply walks off. But since the show must go on, they choose a new actor from amongst themselves. And, of course, Wyman is the chosen one.
But here’s where things get weird in a bad way. Let’s talk about rape. Yes, seriously.
Because 3D Naked Ambition is – perhaps inadvertently – a celebration of rape. Japan stereotypically has a rape culture, especially in their porn (I mean, they hadn’t banned the possession of child pornography until last month), so it makes sense that any film about Japanese porn would feature it in some form or another, but you know, it’s supposed to be funny. It’s not about the rape of women, though; it’s about men. Wyman is forced into that encounter, literally shouting “No!” and trying to run away and being thrown back into position by his female partner. It’s funny… but it’s still rape.
And while it would be vaguely uncomfortable just that once, man-rape becomes the focal point of his character. Japanese women go absolutely crazy for this new star who lets women take the reigns, and Wyman is pulled into this new career, playing the awkward guy who gets raped by everybody around him. Like one of his first videos, where he plays a thirteen year old student who gets raped by his school nurse. “Everything that’s about to happen is a hallucination,” she says, and then off she goes.
At that point, Wyman has accepted his fate and even begins to kinda-sorta enjoy his work at times, but I mean… what the fuck? That’s not okay on a ridiculous number of levels. If the gender roles were switched, everyone would have been up in arms. The fact that they’re technically being sort of subversive doesn’t actually make it okay. I laughed along with everyone else because in practice it’s pretty darn funny, but conceptually I had serious reservations about what I was watching.
Last year, I saw Takashi Miike’s Lesson of the Evil. If you look at that review, it’s another case where a film goes into something exceedingly fucked up and just feels wrong. Afterwards, I had a discussion with Mike Gingold from Fangoria, and he was absolutely appalled. I wasn’t quite as horrified as he was, but I understood where he was coming from. It was ideologically offensive.
But that film knew it was fucked up. It may have featured the gleeful slaughter of dozens of schoolchildren, but it did so to offend. 3D Naked Ambition shows no such self-awareness, and plays the rape for comedy. And it succeeds. 3D Naked Ambition, for the most part, is really, really funny. And it’s not like all of the comedy is about him being taken advantage of by women, and there are some genuinely nice moments. A particular scene that went a small way towards redeeming the story involved a new porn actress running off set in tears and Wyman running after her. I was expecting it to immediately turn into a, “It’s fine. Just come do it!” sort of thing, but it doesn’t. What happens is much better than that.
But it’s also weird that this movie has that moment. It may be the most “normal” scene in the entire film, but it only serves to highlight just how crazy everything else is. I mean, it’s not even worth trying to explain how insane it is. Like R100, it needs to be seen to be believed. Sure, I can tell you that 3D Naked Ambition features a woman spinning vertically around a man’s genitals, exploding in a terrible 2D animation, and – in the process – causing him to ejaculate so hard it shatters the earth’s atmosphere. I can also tell you that the scene is significantly weirder than it sounds and that it’s not the weirdest thing that happens in that movie. But what good would that do you? Can you even fathom what I just said? Of course you can’t.
Also, it’s in 3D. Because why the fuck not.
What makes 3D Naked Ambition the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen is a combination of the actual content (like the scene referenced above) mixed with the off-putting conceptual things that shouldn’t work but kinda do. There’s just nothing else quite like it, and that’s honestly a good thing. One film like this verges on being too many.
Even so, I recommend it, but I do so with reservations. And that’s the reason this is a “Non-review.” Were I to attempt to give 3D Naked Ambition a score based on my experience, it would undoubtedly be a very high one. I greatly enjoyed myself and seeing it in a theater setting, in 3D, with a crowd had an intoxicating effect. But I also can’t in good conscience give a film that I find so fundamentally upsetting the score it on a practical level deserves. If you were to see 3D Naked Ambition without reading this, much of what I said probably wouldn’t even occur to you. And there’s a pretty good chance, whether you’ve seen it or not, that you think I’m taking this whole thing too seriously. You’re free to think that.
But whatever else you may say, I think everyone can agree that 3D Naked Ambition is completely insane. It truly is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. But I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.