Whereas sexually explicit and semi-explicit material is shunned in Hollywood for fear of incurring the NC-17-rated wrath of the Motion Picture Association of America's censorship board, 3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy has become a Category III-rated (no one under 18 allowed) hit in Hong Kong.
Inspired by Yu Li's 17th-century erotic classic The Carnal Prayer Mat, the Cantonese-language 3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy, which has been erroneously described as a “porn film,” features both nudity and sex scenes of various types and number of participants. According to one reviewer, however, not much is actually shown on screen. But moviegoers don't seem to care.
On its first day out, Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy took in a reported HK$2.8 million (US$360,000), outperforming James Cameron's Avatar, which collected HK$2.6 million. In its first week, Extreme Ecstasy has grossed $2.1 million.
Directed by Christopher Sun Lap Key, and adapted by Stephen Siu and Mark Wu, the $3.2 million-budgeted film stars Hiro Hayama, Leni Nam, Vonnie Lui, Naami Hasegawa, Yukiko Suo, and Saori Hara; the latter three are well-known performers in the Japanese adult film industry. (And to think that a few years ago the p.c. crowd angrily complained that only Hollywood would cast Chinese as Japanese – in Memoirs of a Geisha – or vice-versa.)
Set at the time of the Ming dynasty, Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy follows a young man (Hayama) who only realizes he loves his frigid ex-wife (Nam) after becoming an active participant in the Prince of Ning's Pavilion of Ultimate Bliss.
If this sounds moralistic, it probably is – but according to the tenets of the Cecil B. DeMille School of Morality: make sure to arouse audiences' lustful appetites by depicting orgies and various sexual “perversions” before villains are punished and heroes find True Love and redemption.
Okay, so DeMille would never have shown Fredric March, Charlton Heston, or Victor Mature replacing his tiny penis with a donkey dick. But Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy is both a comedy and a remake – with a tacked-on happy ending – of Sex and Zen (1991), which remains the biggest adult-rated hit in Hong Kong film history. In other words, audience expectations are quite different from those of people who flocked to see The Sign of the Cross, The Ten Commandments, and Samson and Delilah.
Next, we're supposed to be treated to Tinto Brass' 3D follow-up to Caligula and Hustler's explicit spoof of Avatar.
3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy opens in Taiwan on Friday. Mainland Chinese must watch the film in Hong Kong, as China's communist government is as prudish as the MPAA censors.
Photo: China 3D Digital