Nude Fear is a relatively obscure Hong Kong psychological thriller that delivers more than might be expected, were it not the directorial debut of Alan Mak, half of the team Mak and [Andrew] Lau, the duo behind Infernal Affairs (2002 / trailer), Infernal Affairs II (2003 / original trailer) and Infernal Affairs III (2003 / original trailer). Visually and acting-wise, the movie scores high, so in regards to the purely directorial chores Mal did well. But as his later projects reveal him to be a tight scriptwriter as well, one wonders why he didn't do more to fix the flaws in the intriguing but highly flawed narrative. The script, as supplied by Susan Chan (Tokyo Raiders [2000 / trailer] and Koma [2004 / trailer]) and Joe Ma (Black Mask [1996 / trailer] and Bless This House [1988 / original trailer]), simply has one too many holes and quick plot-advancing solutions to hold water as well as it should.
Which doesn't mean that the movie is a complete failure, but if you aim to create dankly depressing, character-driven psychological crime film in which an intellectually superior, serial-killing wacko pursues over-the-top machinations ala Se7en (1995 / trailer) or Copykill (1995 / trailer), you need to make sure all threads tie tight knots and every aspect of the story works. In this regard, Nude Fear fails, and thus as effective and creepy and icky as the events sometimes are, and as well-acted and character-driven as the movie is, Nude Fear nevertheless remains somewhat a washout.
One can't help but feel that those involved with the narrative, be it the scriptwriter or the director, occasionally had the feeling that this or that detail was "good enough" and therefore didn't bother to think just a bit more for a better solution. Sort of like the title of the movie itself: Regardless of the what the actual Hong Kong title is, the translator(s) obviously didn't see it worth their while to think twice and realize that the odd-sounding title "Nude Fear" lacks all the punch that "Naked Fear" would have — especially since "Naked Fear" is the actual idiom used in English. (Whether or not the movie really has all that much to do with "naked fear" or not is something else entirely.)
But, no: instead, the movie is called Nude Fear, and instead of a title that might make the viewer think of a situation fraught with fear, the flick is encumbered by one that makes you think of, dunno, a horror film set in a nudist camp, perhaps along the lines of Barry Mahone's trash disasterpiece The Beast That Killed Women (1965 / full film) or Ferenc Leroget's even more obscure and entertainingly incompetent mess, The Monster of Camp Sunshine (1964 / trailer).
That Nude Fear aims for higher and non-nudist sights is obvious in the first five minutes of the movie, which carries a punch and also tells a lot quickly, effectively, leanly. The cute, little pigtailed girl that doesn't get picked up from school, once all the other kids have been, finally undertakes to make her way through the busy streets of the city by her lonesome and makes it safely home, only to be confronted by a blood-drenched apartment and her raped, naked mother dead on the floor — at which point she goes into tragic, gut-wrenching denial, as if the scene were something totally normal. Cut to many-years-passed, and we see Joyce Chan Ching-yee again, now as an adult (the attractive former model Kathy Chow, of The Holy Virgin vs. the Evil Dead [1991 / trailer], Guen see sin sang [2001 / trailer] and more): a brilliant if cold detective, capable of solving crimes with a talent comparable to that of Sherlock Holmes but incapable of maintaining human relationships. And then she is called to a sex-murder scene that is one-to-one identical to the unsolved case of her mother...
Up till then, the movie does pretty good, even if Joyce's Sherlock Holmes detective skills make for a better scene than they do actually hold water. Ditto with how the movie precedes: she knows the killer will call — how come, who knows — and he does — how come, who knows — and they get their killer... or did they? Sure, they got a killer (an appropriately unnerving Sam Lee, of Gen-X Cops [1999 / trailer], Visible Secret [2001 / trailer], Bio Zombie [1998 / trailer], Cold Pupil [2013 / trailer], and The Stewardess [2002 / trailer]), and he knows all about the Joyce and her past, in detail, but he wasn't even a spermatozoa when her mother was killed.
At this point, the buildup still carries the movie, but the flaws of Nude Fear pretty quickly come to the forefront as of the minute the killer calls. And the subsequently mounting plot deficiencies sorely reduce the enjoyment of the well-directed film and most of the ensueing admittedly well-filmed shock scenes. Stones that should get turned don't, particular after the young killer does something that could only be done with inside help. And later, when a mysterious young girl shows up wandering the highways with Joyce's photo in her pocket, the implausibilities increase, one after the other, piling up like a stack of flapjacks. Do detectives normally take mysterious young girls home? Or only those that seem to have psychological baggage? Are their statements always taken as the impeachable truth? Do really so few girls disappear in Hong Kong over a 20-odd-year period? We could go on and on and one, but why bother?
OK, as inane as the character Joyce sometimes acts for an "intelligent" detective, Kathy Chow does a good job playing her and making her a solid character. And the real killer, whom we know long before she does — which allows for some tension and major ick-factor — is truly effective. And the buildup to the scene in which Joyce loses half her team is noteworthy: amazing how a few simple actions can add sympathy to a faceless character and thus up the tragedy of a death. But it is all the good stuff tucked in-between the glaring mistakes that makes Nude Fear so aggravating and disappointing at the end: the movie could have been a truly good one had the time been taken to make the script hold water.
Nude Fear is, in the end, less a waste of time than simply a letdown. It really, obviously, thoroughly had the chance to be so much more than it is — so watch it with low expectations, and you might like it.