Auds get an eyeful of flesh, served with sadistic, spasmodic laughs, in “3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy,” an attempt to revive the 1990s Hong Kong softcore-comedy franchise. While this item is even less interested in spirituality than the original pics, its most notable difference, apart from its stereoscopic visuals, is a distinct mean streak. Pic made a robust $351,000 in Hong Kong on opening day alone, and B.O. will continue to be socko there, as China’s strict censorship forces mainlanders to catch the film in H.K. In Oz, local theaters put on extra showings to meet demand.
While not always as coherent as its episodic 2D predecessors, “3D Sex and Zen” does its best to present a feature-length narrative based very loosely on the ancient Chinese text “The Carnal Prayer Mat.” Young Ming Dynasty scholar Yangsheng (Japanese thesp Hiro Hayama) falls in love with and marries beautiful Yuxiang (Leni Lan). The pair are happy, but due to a lack of stamina, among other shortcomings, the newlyweds’ sex life is below par.
Yangsheng seeks sexual tutelage from the Mephistophelian Prince of Ning (Tony Ho, chewing the scenery), who savors the pleasures of female flesh in his cliff-top Pavilion of Ultimate Bliss. Here, Yangsheng and Yuxiang’s couplings and the orgiastic atmosphere of Ning’s realm offer glimpses of bare breasts and pubic hair, but the gunning down of a nameless concubine in the prince’s lair also foreshadows the bountiful bloodshed and cruelty to follow in the film’s second, nastier half.
Script by Mark Wu and producers Stephen Shiu (producer of the original “Sex and Zen” franchise) and his son Stephen Shiu Jr. abandons its good-natured facade halfway through with a rape scene and thereafter descends into further acts of carnal violence; still, as unpleasant as it all is, J-horror fans will barely bat an eye.
Pic boasts plentiful female nudity as well as a closeup of a penis, but the bare bods of both sexes are objects of fun rather than eroticism here. Visuals are buttressed by strained sexual jokes that lose their impact in the English subtitles on the print caught, although one comic highlight, involving a bungled organ transplant and a hungry dog, supplies excruciating leg-crossing laughter.
Helming by commercials director Christopher Sun is workmanlike, frequently foregrounding irrelevant objects (bottles, candles) to exploit the 3D format. The usual gimmicks are deployed — flying knives, speeding bullets and so on — but given that the pic bills itself as “the world’s first 3D erotic film,” it’s reasonably restrained when it comes to technologically enhanced sexual imagery. Only one truly indulgent moment occurs, and it plays just long enough to be ludicrous. Regardless, Sun keeps the narrative ticking along with the help of editor Azrael Chung.
Thesping is routine, with all players (who include Japanese adult stars Saori Hara and Yukiko Suho) hamming it up. Only Vonnie Lui as the vampiric Elder of Bliss, who maintains a youthful appearance by sucking other’s yang energy, has enough charisma to be memorable.
Distaff costumes, when worn, are eye-catching, and production design is superior to that of many other Hong Kong productions. Even in 2D, pic should look aces.