As a conceited scholar of the Ming Dynasty, Wei Yangshang believes that since life is short, one should pursue the ultimate sexual pleasure as time allows. Wei Yangsheng and Tie Yuxiang, the handsome daughter of Tie Fei the Taoist priest, meet in an occasion. They fall in love at first sight, and Wei Yangsheng later marries into the Tie's family. Yuxiang is elegant and courteous under the influence of her father's faith, though her lack of passion cannot fully satisfy Wei Yangsheng's sexual needs. His disappointment is no less than his affection for her.

Landmark erotic film loses steam along the way.

Liberally flaunting the former with little regard for the latter, Christopher Sun’s 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy is a likeable, energetic but rather too nasty reworking of Michael Mak’s 1991 film (still a favourite with late-night vid-viewers, most of whom have no interest in Asian mysticism).

This big-budget Cantonese romp is a million miles from author Li Yu’s erotic novel The Carnal Prayer Mat, the 400 year-old source material from which it tenuously draws it inspiration. Nonetheless, it pressed all the right buttons to ensure maximum media coverage for its April 14 premiere in Hong Kong: a bevy of Japanese porn stars in key roles (Saori Hara, Naami Hasegawa, Yukiko Suho); a boisterous Chinese New Year marketing surge; production standards as good as anything you’ll see from the Hong Kong industry; oh, and nude people having sex in 3D.

Box office receipts were suitably muscular, though the numbers undoubtedly reflect a wave of mainland filmgoers who ferried to Hong Kong cinemas to catch a film that never stood a chance of passing strict Chinese censorship laws. (The 118 minute Australian version runs well shy of its official 129 running time; Singapore audiences had 18 minutes excised.)

Plot-wise, Sun’s film is both unnecessarily convoluted and inadequately fleshed-out (no pun intended). The pairing of true loves Yangsheng (Hiro Hayama) and Yuxiang (Leni Lan) is blessed by the Ming Dynasty rulers and they wed, but Yangsheng’s shortcomings in the boudoir start to gnaw away at the couple’s contentment. Yangsheng seeks out the carnal knowledge of legendary sexual master, The Prince of Ning (an unbridled Tony Ho), overseer of an orgiastic lair called The Pavilion of Ultimate Bliss. His solution: transplant Yangsheng’s tiny manhood (a comically well-timed close-up leaves no doubt about its virtual non-existence) with that of a donkey. The transplant scene, a terrific piece of brazen grotesque comedy, features two wayward penises and a hungry German shepherd. It is easily the film’s highlight.

It works for Yangsheng (and up to 10 of Ning’s concubines, in one of the film’s 'I hope no one I know is here...’ moments), but The Prince is gripped by a jealous rage at having his love god status usurped. His mid-film seizure of Yuxiang as a means by which to exact revenge on Yangsheng adversely alters the tone of the film. The bawdy, good-time sex farce that mostly had audiences giggling becomes sexualised torture-porn (though, both elements are handled rather half-heartedly).

Sun, a commercials director making his feature debut, has a bit of fun with the 3D format, mostly in the climactic sword-and-switchblade fight scenes, but nothing emerges that fully capitalises on the '3D Sex’ angle of the film’s marketing. (The most obvious use of the technology in a porn film that, ahem, 'springs’ to mind never eventuates.) Admittedly, boobs, pubes and buttocks are enlivened by the added dimension (and by the cast’s willingness to dramatise overtly, the intermingling of said body parts). However, the thrill dissipates as the narrative turns nasty; multi-dimensional scenes of rape and dismemberment suck a lot of the fun out the film’s final 40 minutes.

An unexpected distraction was the focus shift demanded by front-of-screen subtitles. (Not that there is a lot of crucial dialogue, it must be said.)


1 hour 53 min
In Cinemas 14 April 2011,
Wed, 08/10/2011 - 11