3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy
Pornography techniques, like military technology, are often dual-use. Once the industry finds something that works, wider consumer demand follows. Porn was a driving force behind cinema innovations such as the split screen, high definition and the renaissance of 3D itself, so it’s odd that it’s taken this long for a big budget 3D erotica to be released. But no matter; the wait is over and it’s not a disappointment.
3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy is the latest instalment of the Sex and Zen series, none of which I’ve seen, and is based on the classical novel The Carnal Prayer Mat, which I have never read. It follows newly weds Wei Yangsheng and Tie Yuxiang, as their marriage gets off to an unconvincing start, due the former’s inability to last more than a few seconds in the bedroom.
Soon enough, Wei has ingratiated himself with the Prince of Ning, a man so evil he has naked women writhing over him throughout the day, all of them seemingly in a constant state of climax. I know – it’s just like coming round my place. Wei subsequently gets a bit lost in Ning’s winningly-titled Pavillion of Ultimate Bliss, making his way through most of the women there before worrying that his marriage might be on the rocks.
Imagine a combination of Avatar, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Deepthroat and you’ve got some idea of what 3D Sex and Zen is like. Its slapstick sensibilities veer alarmingly deep into Carry On territory, but with an explicitness and enthusiasm which makes them oddly endearing. “Will it hurt?” Wei’s wife asks him as he first removes her clothes. “Yes,” he replies. “But it will be awesome.” The film has a surprisingly wry sense of humour. One scene sees an elderly Buddhist master chant “form is emptiness, emptiness is form” while he is forcibly seduced by a young woman – a line that still had me chuckling several hours later. It’s youthful, exuberant imagination manages to cover up the obvious inadequacies of its narrative structure. One character, The Elder of Ultimate Bliss, appears as a beautiful young woman with the deep, gravelly voice of a male. This teenage joke is surprisingly effective for the duration of the film. His habit of sucking the “Zen of Yin Yang” from young children explains why he’s constantly surrounded by dozens of elderly-looking men all screaming in childhood voices, another motif that prompts more laughter than you feel it really deserves.
On at least three occasions I was left with my mouth open, struggling to understand what I was watching. One slow-motion action sequence sees The Elder attack a man with his/her six foot velvet penis. In another, a disabled magician must tear a human penis from a dog’s mouth. Through the course of the film, our hero undergoes two separate genital surgeries, finally being fitted with a donkey’s cock. In 3D, it really is quite a sight to behold.
On the subject of the 3D, its use here is far superior to any of the Hollywood blockbusters you’ll see this year. Imaginative shots (the less generous will call it gimmicky) see flying knives hit slow-motion bullets as they both career towards your face. From splurting blood to wobbling tits, it’s about as far from the pretentious, “immersive 3D” nonsense Hollywood has been failing to deliver as you can get.
The obvious absence, of course, is a normal human penis. The famed, monstrous dick of Ning (see how the film forces you to speak) is shown only in shadow, presumably because even this audience would struggle with a special effect of a massively inflated penis coming out the screen towards them. That’s a shame and one of the rare moments when the film shows any hesitancy in passing the normal boundaries of good taste.
Of course, that could be due to Japanese-style rules on showing erect penis, although the filmmakers have already reportedly agreed to produce various versions of the movie to get past censors on the Chinese mainland. There’s a certain irony to that, because one of the effects of the film is to challenge some of our pre-conceived ideas around Chinese culture, even if this is patently the work of rugged, vibrant Hong Kong rather than authoritarian China. If one were to treat this as one’s only data set on the subject of Chinese sexuality they would come over as incurably demented. They also appear to be even more obsessed with penis size than we are.
The problems with the film start to creep in the final act, as it takes an ill-advised turn into much darker territory. Sex comedy is never easy, because it’s difficult to maintain laughter and an arousal at the same time, but it becomes something close to offensive when rape and sexual torture are thrown into the mix. One scene in which a naked woman is beaten then shot in the head is played for laughs and it just about gets away with it. Several rape scenes and a particularly misjudged sequence featuring vaginal torture later and that is no longer the case.
To a certain extent, this is a standard trope of the Hentai genre from which the film takes so much inspiration (several of the stars are Japanese porn celebrities). Regardless, a final scene which demands laughs, and then rape, and then laughs again, crossed a line for me and I consider myself to be pretty impervious to this stuff.
The movie’s final message, that sex ultimately doesn’t matter as long as you’re in love, is probably the most surprising thing in the entire two hour ordeal. This message, which would be considered entirely run-of-the-mill in most films, seems almost radical in the hands of such a resolutely filthy piece of work. On the other hand, proclaiming that there’s more to life than sex after trying to titillate the audience in every way imaginable has a hint of hypocrisy as well.
Whatever criticisms one can throw at it – and there are many – none of them quite outdo the fact that 3D Sex and Zen is entirely unlike any film you will have ever seen before. For that, it deserves genuine credit.
Final score: 7/10
3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy directed by Christopher Sun; 109 minutes; certificate 18; released 2nd September (UK)