It is surely a sign that the post-pornographic age has arrived when posters of 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy decorate the underground. You no longer need to venture to the Soho rental stores for your seedy fix. You no longer need to reach all-too-conspicuously for your top-shelf, plastic-wrapped shame, nor make that incriminating card purchase over the internet. Porn comes to you now, even when you’re making your sleepy way to work. It’s acceptable, passé even. So why all the fuss over Sex and Zen?
Well, first of all, as said posters make clear enough, this is the world’s first 3D erotica film. This promise of bas-relief coitus was certainly enough to score the film the highest opening-day gross in Hong Kong cinema history, with hordes flooding in from mainland China, where the film is banned. In reaction to this phenomenon, an unfortunately worded post on CNN even suggested that “a gush of big-budget pornographic films” might encourage more extensive tourist connections between the two regions. But it is not for its potentially liberalising effects on geo-politics that Sex and Zen has made a splash in the film industry. Everyone knows that sex sells, and industry types will be hoping that this oriental romp can breathe life into the gradually deflating industry that is 3D film.
If you are counting on the revolutionary potential of the 3D breast, though, you’re in for an anticlimax. The many, many private parts on show in Sex and Zen are slightly more intrusive than your standard cinematic fare, but there’s no getting away from the fact that they remain private parts on a screen, and we’ve all seen that before. No, what’s truly distinctive about Sex and Zen is its bonkers combination of soft-core porn, costume drama, knockabout farce, flying-dagger martial arts, Buddhist philosophy, and harrowing depictions of torture and rape. All of which would have made for a pretty tasteless cocktail, had it not been sweetened by moments of genuine hilarity, and a plot so ridiculous that the film will never be taken seriously enough to really offend the prudish or pretentious.
The story, based on the novel The Carnal Prayer Mat (1657), begins…