3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy box office: Erotic period comedy-drama has bigger opening-day than Avatar in Hong Kong
In Hollywood, sexually explicit – or even semi-explicit – material is shunned for fear of incurring the wrath of the Motion Picture Association of America’s censorship board, whose NC-17 rating (no one under 18 allowed) is akin to the domestic box office kiss of death for an industry geared to 12-year-olds. In Hong Kong, however, things can be a little different, as attested by the commercial success of a Category III-rated (no one under 18 allowed) local release: Christopher Sun’s 3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy.
Budgeted between US$3.2–$3.5 million (depending on the source), this loose adaptation of Li Yu‘s controversial 17th-century erotic classic The Carnal Prayer Mat (a.k.a. The Before Midnight Scholar) – previously transferred to the screen as Sex and Zen in 1991 – features both nudity and sexual activities of various types and number of participants. Yet that certainly hasn’t prevented Hong Kong moviegoers from flocking to theaters.
In fact, on its first day out, April 14, 3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy took in a remarkable HK$2.8 million (US$360,000), thus slightly outperforming a radically different kind of 3D entertainment, James Cameron’s Avatar, which collected HK$2.6 million in mid-December 2009.
After nearly a week, Extreme Ecstasy has grossed US$2.1 million vs. Avatar’s $2 million on its debut weekend.
Wild orgies will show you the way
Set at the time of the Ming dynasty (14th–17th centuries), Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy follows an arrogant young scholar (Japanese actor/model Hiro Hayama) who, as per reviews, comes to the realization that he actually loves his sex-averse (by then ex-)wife (Shanghai-born actress/singer Lan Yan, a.k.a. Leni Lan Crazybarby) only after becoming an active participant in the Pavilion of Ultimate Bliss of the Prince of Ning (Tony Ho).
And this final “message” – Love Above All – makes Christopher Sun’s movie feel like a more hardcore exemplar of the Cecil B. DeMille Cinematic School of Morality: Make sure to whet audiences’ lustful appetites before villains are punished and heroes/heroines find love and redemption.
Admittedly, DeMille would never have shown Fredric March, Victor Mature, or Charlton Heston replacing his “tiny” penis with a donkey dick, but Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy is at its core a dark sex dramedy. In other words, audiences’ expectations are radically different from those of moviegoers who, decades ago, flocked to movie houses showing The Sign of the Cross, Samson and Delilah, and The Ten Commandments.
Should we be looking forward to some more ethnic casting outrage?
But for now, let’s leave aside the curious moral that lots of extramarital sex (not to mention lots of graphic brutality) is needed for an individual to recognize his true love.
Instead, let’s focus on the fact that 3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy features a Japanese actor as the lead Chinese character, in addition to at least four Japanese supporting players also playing Chinese: Kirt Kishita, and adult film industry performers Saori Hara (a.k.a. Miyavi Matsunoi), Yukiko Suô, and, according to several sources, Naami Hasegawa.
An aside: Remember when some were outraged by the casting of ethnic Chinese actresses Ziyi Zhang, Michelle Yeoh, and Gong Li as Japanese characters in Rob Marshall’s 2005 period drama Memoirs of a Geisha?
Adapted by Stephen Shiu and Mark Wu, 3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy also features Vonnie Lui and Irene Chen.
No 3D sex and violence for Mainland Chinese audiences
3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy has already opened in South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. Its next market is Taiwan.
Mainland China, however, will remain out of bounds, as its authoritarian government’s censors are even more prudish than those at the Motion Picture Association of America.
Fifth biggest Hong Kong hit of the year
Update: As found at boxofficemojo.com, Christopher Sun’s 3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy ultimately collected $10.3 million (likely incomplete) worldwide.
Its top markets were Hong Kong ($5.3 million), where it was the year’s fifth biggest hit of 2011; Taiwan ($2.1 million); South Korea ($873,000); and Thailand ($801,500). In the U.S. and Canada, the erotic tale raked in a measly $153,000.
For the record, James Cameron’s Avatar ended its Hong Kong run with $23.1 million.
“3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy Box Office” notes
Sex and Zen 1991
 Directed by Michael Mak, the 1991 Sex and Zen stars Lawrence Ng and Amy Yip. It reportedly remains the biggest adults-only hit in Hong Kong film history.
There would be two sequels: Chin Man Kei’s Sex and Zen II (1996) and Aman Chang’s Sex and Zen III (1998).
“Extreme Ecstasy Box Office” endnotes
Lan Yan (Leni Lan Crazybarby), Saori Hara, and Hiro Hayama 3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy movie images: One Dollar Distribution.
“3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy Box Office: Erotic Hong Kong Hit Beats Avatar on First Day” last updated in December 2022.