(Ed: we don’t normally prepend a disclaimer to a review, but we just thought we’d warn you: Liz is pretty frank in this piece, and you should expect explicit discussion of, well, very explicit themes and the occasional spoiler. You are reading about a film titled ‘3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy’, after all!)
Pardon me for taking personal offense, but the question must be asked. Did anyone involved with the production of 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy ever have any real sex with a real woman? For a movie that producer Steven Shiu Jr steadfastly maintains is not porn, it certainly sounds like it. Where the idea comes from that women in the throes of ecstasy make these wheezy, whiny little screaming sounds is beyond me. And guys, before any of you protest with, “Yeah but in my experience…” I would dare say that alleged experience is the result of any given girl’s internalised belief that’s what she should sound like. Because that’s how it is in the movies. But I digress.
Judging from the jam-packed industry screening at Filmart (the trade show that runs concurrently with HKIFF), interest is high for the world’s first 3D erotic feature film, though it was just a matter of time. Shiu and director Christopher Sun have won the release date contest against Italian soft-core pornographer Tinto Brass (currently in pre-production on a 3D “remake,” Who Killed Caligula), and so like Dante’s Peak (February 1997) trumping Volcano (April ’97) at the box office, Ecstasy has a chance at moderate global success based on A) the curiosity factor and B) getting there first.
To address the elephant in the room, yes the movie has lots and lots of sex. Usually bad, but plenty of it. Aficionados of non-X-rated dirty movies will want to stick to films from Europe or HBO programming to get their fix, but by Asian standards Ecstasy is, well, extreme. The film begins with Wei Yangsheng (Hayama Hiro, Shinjuku Incident) becoming enamoured with and eventually marrying Tie Yuxiang (relative newcomer Leni Lan). The first hour or so of Ecstasy shares the same playful, silly tone with the original film released during Hong Kong’s late-’80s/early-’90s Cat III heyday. Everyone seems to be having fun, and the young couple’s bedroom difficulties are painted as an unfortunate marital issue. Long story short: sex him takes about 3 seconds and she’s left stone cold. But they have a ton of other things in common and seem to genuinely enjoy being together. Awwww. The period sets and costumes look pretty sharp (the film had a miniscule US$3 million budget) but for all the hype, the 3D doesn’t add much to the overall viewing experience. It’s not distracting, but it’s also superfluous. Thankfully, Sun keeps the projectiles and gimmicky shots to a minimum: there is only one in-your-face-boobies shot, and one floating schlong. Not bad.
But naturally, things take a turn for the worse in the marriage, and Wei finds himself wandering, claiming boredom in his sex life and looking for other outlets. After Tie divorces him for his philandering, Wei and his best buddy (and one-time rival for Tie’s affections) make their way post-haste to the lair of the Prince of Ning (Tony Ho), a professional hedonist that lords over all who live in his Qing iteration of the Playboy Mansion, which, considering his age, Hugh Hefner may actually have been at. Ning is a sexual tyrant with a monster unit that keeps his libidinous Wonder Twins, Ruizhu (Hara Saori) and Dongmei (Suou Yukiko), sated. All right. Silly but not downright offensive. Ning’s, uh, consultant, the Elder of Bliss (Vonnie Lui, buxom and amusing) finally hands down the diagnosis that Wei’s problems can be traced to his tiny penis. So naturally he goes and gets a donkey dick transplanted onto his crotch. It’s here the film takes an ugly, misogynist, violent turn.
It starts with Tie being raped by a local handyman she prevents from being fired. He later breaks into her bath chamber. The scene is fetishised in such a way as to confuse the issue: Are they secret, cross-class lovers? No (not one, but two plot points make that clear). But eventually, as in all male rape fantasies, she winds up digging it. WTF? After this disgrace (what’s disgraceful exactly – that she was raped or that she “liked” it?), Tie spirals downward into sexual slavery while Wei embarks on a carnal rampage with his new appendage. There’s some other bruha about a valuable plate, a double-cross of Ning and a plot by Bliss to avoid jail or some such, which all leads to Ning’s ultimate freakout, where conspiring to tempt a monk into breaking his vows of celibacy, torturing Tie with what appears to be a combination vibrator and food processor juicer attachment, lopping off Wei’s prized part and — get ready for it — ‘doing’ Dongmei literally to death all appear to be par for the course. This is erotic entertainment?
Ecstasy is bookended by scenes of newlyweds getting advice from an elderly couple about how crucial true love is in a marriage’s longevity. Wei and Tie, survivors of Ning’s meltdown, hear those words at the beginning; dispense it at the end. As a final, bitter irony, all this viciousness is supposed to vindicate monogamy and emotional investment in sex. Again. WTF?