Saturday, September 03, 2011

Review - 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy (3D rou pu tuan zhi ji le bao jian)

3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy
starts as one sort of film and ends up as something very different. I tolerated the first half and loathed the second. The film is the fourth instalment in a series of Chinese erotic comedies originally inspired by a 17th century novel, but this is the first one to bring the series into the third dimension, with the decision to embrace cutting-edge filmmaking techniques paying off at the box-office. In Hong Kong, the movie raced past the records set by Titanic and Avatar, with people even flocking to Hong Kong from China to enjoy a film banned in their own country. Sex sells, no matter where in the world you go, but that's truer than ever in this case, because there's little beyond the sex to get excited about in Christopher Sun's movie – there's no Zen as far as I could see, and precious little ecstasy.

The big story surrounding 3D Sex and Zen upon its release in this country has been the decision taken by the BBFC to demand a couple of minutes worth of cuts before the film received an 18 certificate. So it comes as something of a surprise when the film quickly reveals its rather tame approach to carnal matters. Most of the sexual encounters consist of some softcore writhing, thrusting and moaning, while the only penises shown in the film are a tiny one exposed for comedic value and – more alarmingly – a severed horse cock which is flung at the 3D glasses-wearing audience (The House of Flying Phallus?). At other times, huge erections are shown as silhouettes or under garments, but it wasn't for this reason that the BBFC demanded revisions.

We'll get back to that matter later on.First, let me expand on the dichotomy between the film's two halves. 3D Sex and Zen is the story of a young man named Wei Yangsheng (Hiro Hayama) who falls in love with the beautiful Tie Yuxiang (Leni Lan) at first sight, scuppering her planned marriage to his best friend. The pair make love incessantly in their first days of wedded bliss, but Yangsheng proves to be a disappointment in bed, climaxing almost immediately every time they have sex. For some reason (plot is not this movie's strongest suit), Yangsheng ends up at the Tower of Rarities, where he becomes intoxicated by the sexual delights going on inside and decides to stay, promising to serve the Prince of Ning for a decade. He encounters a "proportionally perfect" woman (Saori Hara), a beautiful hermaphrodite with a very deep voice and a talented penis (Vonnie Liu), and he decides to solve his own genital inadequacy by have a horse transplant. As you do.

All of this is played with plenty of gusto and broad strokes, and it's mildly enjoyable in its cheerfully amateurish fashion. The tone is giggly, prurient and farcical – like a slightly more explicit Chinese Carry On film – and the enthusiasm of those involves allows us to overlook the film's deficiencies at times. It really is a shoddy piece of work, though. The acting, as you may expect, is hopeless, and the film has been thrown together in such a haphazard manner I often had no idea what was going on. At one point we're asked to recall a scene that I don't think was even in the movie, and when two characters climbed up a mountain towards the end to (a) have sex with and (b) kill a monk, I hadn't the foggiest notion of who they were or what they were up to. OK, people aren't going to go and watch 3D Sex and Zen for its compelling narrative, but after the novelty of some boobs being jiggled at the camera in 3D has worn off, the picture becomes an awful drag. Then the tone suddenly shifts.

The BBFC in its modern incarnation is not in the habit of requesting cuts films without good reason, and the statement released over the 3D Sex and Zen decision states: "Compulsory cuts were required to two scenes of sexual and sexualised violence, which included elements with a tendency to eroticise and endorse sexual violence." Having seen what remains in the film, I'm not a bit surprised that they made that call. The second half of 3D Sex and Zen descends into ugliness, becoming focused on dismemberment and rape to a repulsive degree. At one point, a woman is forced to sit on a wooden horse that has a rotating spiked device embedded into its back, but as she suffers her moans and screams are barely distinguishable from the orgasmic noises made by her and other women when in the throes of passion earlier.

It's not just the misogynistic nature of this content that I found sickening; it's the comparison with how the film depicts these sights and those of the earlier lovemaking. Why is the depiction of sex soft-pedalled while violence is shown in all of its explicit, bloody unpleasantness? This is true not just of this movie but of contemporary film culture in general; films which take a frank approach to sex always seem to cause a stink while the sadistic Saw, Hostel or Final Destination films and their myriad imitators have become an accepted aspect of mainstream cinema. For a while I thought I might have some fun with 3D Sex and Zen, but on reflection, I doubt I'll see a more depressing and repulsive movie this year.