3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy review

In Placing 3D before the title, 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy is obviously pushing this aspect of the movie. Shot in 3D, the effect brings attention to itself primarily via CGI enhanced ‘in-your-face’ moments. Protruding from the screen are daggers, bullets, even Mah Jong tiles and something I’d like to believe is water. Given the title, there’s also the obvious – Vonnie Lui’s breasts are thrust towards the viewer for no other reason except to show you them bouncing up and down in 3D, and at one point a horse’s penis is flung in the air. Be careful if you’re sitting in the front row.

Young scholar, Wei Yangsheng (Hiro Hayama), hastily gets married to Tie Yuxiang (Leni Lan). Unfortunately he seems to be incapable of satisfying his new wife (the film jokingly shows him finish before a rose petal drops). One day, Wei visits the Prince of Ning (Tony Ho) as a guest, hoping to gain access to his Tower of Rarities. Wei impresses him with his knowledge on rare paintings (even spotting a counterfeit), so the Prince allows him access not just to the tower, but also his Pavilion of Ultimate Bliss. While there, Wei ends up enjoying sex with two of the Prince’s women, Ruizhu (Saori Hara) and Dongmei (Suou Yukiko), and hopes to refine his technique by learning from the Elder of Ultimate Bliss (Vonnie Lui). He then divorces his wife to live out a more licentious lifestyle, but is humiliated due to being poorly endowed (the Elder has to use a magnifying glass). Wei is then convinced to undergo an operation to have his penis replaced… by a horse’s.

A remake of the 1991 film Sex and Zen, itself based on the erotic novel The Carnal Praying Mat, the 3D revamp has already proven to be a box office phenomenon in Hong Kong. It has so far earned just over $5 million (HK$40 million) against its $2.6 million (HK$20 million) production budget. So as you can imagine there is already talk of a sequel.

Directed by Christopher Sun, 3D Sex and Zen is a gorgeous looking film that gets by on its surreal imagery and comedy. Be it Wei’s first meeting with the Elder (the bizarre highlight of the film), the Prince of Ning’s chain swinging and… a rather erect fountain, the weirdness would rate highly. In a sequence that generates a number of laughs, Wei’s operation to swap his penis obviously doesn’t go as planned. However, following the transplant, his ‘cock of the walk’ entrance into the Pavilion of Ultimate Bliss is equally hilarious. Therein ends the positives.

The incongruent storyline gives way to a sadistic third act, with a body count likely to be on par with the recent Conan the Barbarian. Limbs are sliced off and genitals mutilated, as it literally turns into torture porn. The reasoning behind it is as limp as a pre-op Wei. The misogynistic nature of the film means that each of the lead women end up suffering (three of them at the hands of men). However it must be mentioned that the men also receive their comeuppance (no pun intended) too. For most of the characters it could be argued that it’s somewhat justifiable, given how sinful, scheming and selfish they are. The one exception to this is Leni Lan’s Yuxiang. From start to finish she’s practically innocent, and seeing her used and abused for the hell of it is the film’s most disturbing issue.

It is the women that are fetishised for the viewing pleasure of the men, many of whom I imagine will go see this largely out of curiosity. It’s worth noting that the version released here in the UK has received just over 2 minutes of cuts by the BBFC due to scenes of sexual violence. Having viewed the uncut version, it’s pretty clear that a rape involving Yuxiang as well as Domgmei’s final scene will most likely be trimmed.

After proving to be comical most of the way through, it’s a little difficult to understand why the film feels it has to venture into such dark territory by making everyone suffer. I’m assuming that that it wants us to believe that only after losing everything do we fully appreciate what we had, for it’s also during this point that the film’s message comes through. Wei learns his lesson of true love over lust, but it comes too late for him. That the film revels in (and is marketed as) sexual excess (it’s called Extreme Ecstasy), its message, while morally right, is at odds with everything that comes before it. I have not seen the original film, so I’m at a loss if it’s trying to remain faithful here.

The acting, if one could even call it that, is of the camp variety. Tony Ho’s Prince of Ning comes across as absolutely menacing whereas the female leads are left to moan as loudly as possible. Vonnie Lui’s Elder of Ultimate Bliss is the only one that leaves an impression, due to being the smartest character in the film. 

3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy is just waiting for a film student to do a psychoanalytical essay on it. Wei’s calligraphy brush and his eventual transplant operation are themselves loaded with ironic symbolism. It’s clearly a style over substance film, but it’s a style that’s bigger than a D-cup and is insanely twisted. To its credit it’s never boring as you wonder what strange sight you’ll end up seeing next. It’s just a shame that the sights turn sour, tarnishing what could have remained an unusually unique sex comedy.

3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy opens in the UK on September 2nd and will be shown exclusively in Odeon cinemas. 

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