By Simon Abrams
Press Play Contributor
When you buy a ticket for a movie called 3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy, you know exactly what you’re paying to see, and the fourth film in the sleazy but popular Hong Kong film series is exactly what it sounds like: over-the-top 3D softcore porn.
As its title suggests, 3-D Sex and Zen is halfway torn between peddling spurious ideas about zen spirituality and delivering oodles of titillating images from the novel The Carnal Prayer Mat. When the filmmakers’ minds are stuck in the gutter, 3-D Sex and Zen is fantastically bizarre and consummately dirty. But on the whole, it’s not much of a film, even if watching a heap of naked Asian women dogpile a man with a donkey penis is indeed a cinematic sight to see.
Though it’s more serious than the series’ preceding entries, 3-D Sex and Zen is very much a sex comedy that infrequently mistakes itself for a serious drama about fidelity and carnal vice. Wei Yangsheng (Hiro Hayama) is a lascivious but dutiful man lucky enough to marry Yuxing (Leni Nam), the woman of his dreams. Though they enjoy just being with each other, the young lovers spend much of their time having sex. Or as much sex as they can have before Wei prematurely climaxes. The fact that they can’t have more than a few seconds’ worth of bliss at a time bothers Wei very much, so he goes on a quest to the Pavilion of Bliss, where he learns that the key to seducing women is having a massive penis. Wei replaces his penis with a donkey one, and beds a harem or two full of women — all for the sake of better pleasing his wife.
Director Christopher Suen makes it perilously easy to ignore the pretext of seriousness to 3-D Sex and Zen’s outlandish series of disproportionate events. Amidst panoramic shots of many much naked women running around and gasping for joy as they’re taken by force, even the threat of rape is a joke. A scene where a woman dies while being raped becomes impossible to take seriously in this context. Her flailing body is violated underneath a writing desk after a bed sheet is inadvertently draped over her head. We know that this scene is supposed to be a tainted form of spectacle because of its pompous, foreboding orchestral score, but it ends with a corny close-up of the attacker’s face, now bathed in a lurid and fittingly cheap-looking red light, making it very easy to dehumanize a male protagonist who was Wei’s idol just moments ago. But hey, isn’t that the kind of cheese you came (no pun intended) to see?
If the answer to that question is, “Well, yes, but…,” just think: as long as you can ignore the film’s half-hearted serious scenes, you can revel in the absurdity of hearing a ghost say, with a straight face, that he had previously decided to possess a woman’s body so he/she could “infiltrate the palace and rape their children.” (“Now I’m on the court’s most wanted list.”) When 3-D Sex and Zen is not goofy, it’s pretty lame, but you probably knew that already….
Simon Abrams is a New York-based freelance arts critic. His film reviews and features have been featured in the Village Voice, Time Out New York, Slant Magazine, The L Magazine, New York Press and Time Out Chicago. He currently writes TV criticism for The Onion AV Club and is a contributing writer at the Comics Journal. His writings on film are collected at the blog, The Extended Cut.