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’3-D Sex And Zen’: Hong Kong Action, With An Added Erotic Dimension

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
August 12, 2011

Reviving a 1990s Hong Kong softcore-porn/action-comedy series, 3-D Sex & Zen: Extreme Ecstasy adds comin’-at-ya visuals to a campy tale of an erotic quest. Anyone with a dirty mind — and you can hardly imagine the movie without one — will anticipate a certain part of the male anatomy seeming to jut from the screen.

Yet that never happens during the film, which broke box-office records in Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand, topping the per-screen averages of such imports as Scream 4 and Fast Five. (It opens in limited release in the U.S. on Aug. 12.) In fact the objects the movie propels toward the viewer — daggers, bullets, blood — are by and large the sort of thing you get in much of Hollywood’s 3-D fare; with the exception of one brief (and humorous) shot, Sex & Zen doesn’t show human genitalia, though there are assorted marital aids, several prop penises, a gigantic stone phallus and a writhing, snake-like appendage attached to an androgynous creature who’s played by a woman but voiced by a man.

Although it’s closer to Fellini Satyricon than to a typical Jackie Chan vehicle, Sex & Zen includes many elements of the Hong Kong period action film. It’s based, however loosely, on a classic Chinese text (The Carnal Prayer Mat, published in 1657), and it features an earnest hero, a noble monk, an irredeemable villain and lots of fight scenes. Indeed, the movie’s second half makes more war than love, notwithstanding the near-nude babes throughout.

The protagonist is young scholar Yangsheng (Hiro Hayama), who loses his resolve to stay single as soon as he glimpses lovely Yuxiang (Leni Lan). There’s no happily-ever-after for the attractive couple, however. In the bedroom, their ardor fizzles. It seems that Yangsheng is not blessed with carnal knowledge, to say nothing of other endowments.

So he pursues an education with the cruel Prince of Ning (Tony Ho), a debauched connoisseur of art and pleasure. Beautiful women surround the prince, but it’s not because he’s witty, charming and thoughtful.

After he demonstrates his discernment about ancient scroll paintings, Yangsheng is accepted into the prince’s pleasure palace, a sort of Ming Dynasty Playboy Mansion housed in a grotto that looks like a Lord of the Rings location. The young man eventually undergoes a penis transplant, a sequence played for gruesome laughs; alas, the medical miracle won’t lead to an improved sex life for Yuxiang, who’s suffering her own travails while her absent husband strives to improve himself. In the final scene, Yangsheng and Yuxiang chastely announce that sex is not essential to wedded bliss — but it’s not as if they have any choice in the matter.

Although 3-D Sex & Zen is in Cantonese, it owes much to Japan, perhaps East Asia’s most sexually open country; in addition to Hayama, the male lead, the cast includes Japanese “adult” stars Saori Hara and Yukiko Suho. But in a time when the Hong Kong and Beijing film industries are increasingly intertwined, the movie is not set for release in mainland China. That country bans all sex flicks, even those whose major set-pieces seem more likely to deflate than engorge. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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