Film Review: Sex and Zen 3D: Extreme Ecstasy

More hoot than hot, this elaborately produced, over-the-top Chinese oddity promoted as the first 3D erotic movie is a genre and naked-body mash-up that will arouse a varied menu of responses, depending on race, gender, film tastes and thresholds for vi

Sex and Zen 3D: Extreme Ecstasy is an elaborate costume drama with loads of sex and a plot knottier than a fallen ball of yarn. Most definitely, the easily offended better head for the hills, although the film is more soft-core phony than graphic X. Audiences are spared penetration shots or real genitalia, although phony penises, many in startling iterations, abound, as do some flashes of female pubic hair. The 3D is merely one more of the film's visual extravagances, but viewers beware: Some pretty weird stuff springs forward.
As the Asian film industry and their Western partners contemplate how the West can be won, new China Lion is wisely focusing for now on reaching filmgoers of Chinese heritage in North America. With Sex and Zen, available to theatres in both 3D and traditional 2D formats, the initiative is trying for an edgier crowd that goes for things alternative.

The film, which reportedly heated up box office in Asia, Australia and New Zealand but was banned in mainland China, is certainly edgy—there are lots of orgies, loads of breasts bared, frequent couplings assuming a variety of positions and sex acts, girl-on-girl action, S&M, icky forms of torture, outrageous sex toys and other paraphernalia, creepy castrations and weird penis enhancement operations, etc. At the very least, no filmgoer who braves this journey will be left high and dry: If the body doesn’t tingle (in spite of so many loud moans and bumping sounds), at least minds boggle.

As extra insurance (sex doesn’t always sell), Sex and Zen also delivers a tangled story of romance, fantasy, magic and wisdom (happiness lies in real love, not carnal acts) and sets this hodgepodge in a dynasties-old setting of royal sybarites, magicians, wealthy dabblers, religious sages, sinister villagers and warring factions (dagger knives and all). Much of the action (and that can be read both ways) takes place in an elevated stony tower of curvy hallways and vast chambers worthy of any Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or Disney fairytale setting.

Ming Dynasty scholar Wei Yangsheng (Hiro Hayama) arrives here after having married the lovely Tie Yuxiang (Leni Lan) and realizing that their all-too-hurried lovemaking leaves her cold. At the tower, he hopes to hone his amatory skills and falls under the spell of the decadent Prince of Ning (Tony Ho), who oversees orgies with his concubine of beautiful women.

Yangsheng’s strong card is his ability to spot forgeries in the Prince’s art collection. He wins the Prince’s favor and joins in the action, even though his master Monk Budai (Wong Shu Tong) and an elderly couple teach that true happiness outlives carnal pleasures.
The indulgent Yangsheng caves to the decadent lifestyle of the Prince and his harem. He gains access to the prized Pavilion of Ultimate Bliss and to lovemaking expert Ruizhu (Saori Hara), where they go at it for days. Eventually, trouble at home catches up with the scholar’s passionate excesses, and wife Yuxiang wants a divorce. But Yangsheng returns to the tower and encounters sadist Dongmei (Suou Yukiko), who enjoys the excruciating pleasures of getting tattooed and argues that Yangsheng’s small penis is the source of his problems. He then meets the androgynous Elder of Ultimate Bliss (Vonnie Lui), an old man in a beautiful woman’s body, who further ministers to his needs.

What follows in droves are intrigues involving the nearby ancient village and its evil mayor (Lau Shek Yin), stolen artifacts, battles fought with swords, guns and flying daggers, prisoners taken and tortured, the evil Prince thwarted and a sweet ending. And, of course, lots of sex tossed in wherever possible.

The high sex quotient in Sex and Zen, which does boast gorgeous sets and costumes, is its raison d’etre. But where’s the zen, unless it’s in the throwaway about that quest for happiness or maybe just a teaser for a sequel?