« Silent Naruse - Disc 3 | Main | Coffee Break »

May 05, 2011

Sex and Zen

sex and zen 1.jpg

Yu pu tuan zhi: Tou qing bao jian
Michael Mak - 1991
Eastern Star Region 0 DVD

One of the big 3-D hit movies that will probably not appear stateside is the recently released Sex and Zen 3-D. How big a hit? It broke the box office records in Hong Kong and Taiwan established by Avatar. In the U.S., audiences are more apt to embrace blue people rather than blue movies.

I had this film moseying up my Netflix queue. Even if I couldn't see the new film in the series, I decided the time was ripe to see the film that initiated the series. The original film was a relatively big budget production from Golden Harvest, the Hong Kong studio that was home to Bruce Lee. The film also set a record as being the most successful "Category III" release, the equivalent to NC-17. (The U.S. release was rated "R".) It is also an undeniably handsome film, with the kind of visual elegance found in the films of Radley Metzger.

The basis of the film is a 17th Century Chinese novel, The Carnal Prayer Mat. There's some very generic Zen, and lots of sex. What passes for Buddhism are the bookend scenes with the main character, a hedonistic scholar played by Lawrence Ng, visiting a priest with the argument that he can live his life without the effects of karma, only to return to the priest at the end with a tale of woe.

sex and zen 2.jpg

For most everyone else watching this film, Sex and Zen is a tale of "Whoa!". This means admiring the obvious charms of Amy Yip, Isabella Chow and Rena Murakami. Various forms of coupling among different cast members takes place. Yip plays the virginal wife who at first is repulsed by the idea of having sex, while Chow and Murakami are sisters-in-law who are also lovers. There's also group sex, some whippings, nibbling of toes and ears, calligraphy brushes, and creative uses of a flute that anticipate a certain scene in Requiem for a Dream as well as the band camp references in American Pie.

In an, ahem, extended scene, Lawrence Ng, discouraged by his modest endowment, finds a doctor who specializes in limb surgery, and a dream of performing transplant surgery. Both hilarious, horrifying and just plain silly, Ng undergoes an operation that leaves him literally hung like a horse. The emphasis is on bawdy humor. Whatever Michael Mak's artistic intentions were, as declared in the DVD supplement, Sex and Zen is ultimately meant to be enjoyed for its virtues, or lack of them.

sex and zen 3.jpg

Posted by peter at May 5, 2011 08:30 AM