So yeah, 3D Sex and Zen exists. As hardened (steady) cineastes, we'd be remiss here at Cigarette Burns if we didn't at least acknowledge it's upcoming debut on British shores, as it is probably the first genuine cinematic milestone to arrive here since...well, Avatar. But did Avatar spend any of its $1 trillion budget on throwing any giant disembodied cocks at you? Didn't think so. So until James Cameron rectifies this in Avatar 2 you'll have to make do with 3D Sex and Zen, if not the world's first ever 3D erotic film, then the most notable one since Blonde Emmanuelle in 1978, and certainly the first one to come anywhere close to cracking the Western mainstream. In Hong Kong, meanwhile, it's become the highest grossing film of all time, beating Titanic and - yes - Avatar. Sigh...I wish I lived in Hong Kong.
Anyway, we sent Colm McAuliffe down to Soho with a disconcertingly smudged pair of 3D glasses, a dirty mac, a door number and instructions to 'ask for Babs'. He came back with this review:
3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy is a marketing person’s dream. After years of mutual indifference, the dual forces of pornography and cutting-edge 3D have finally come together, aided and abetted by some tantalising costume drama based foreplay and arresting scenes of post-coital pleasure, taking the heart-warming combination of endless nude bodies, metal plates and flying daggers to their natural conclusion.
It certainly had me sold. Instead of spending my Tuesday evening languishing in abject introspection on the Victoria Line to Brixton, I instead began to envisage this film being the key to a truly decadent and debauched phase of my life. ‘What could this mean?!’ I gasped in joy, reading the press release over and over again, imagining redemption and liberation from an existence of vexed incomprehension.
Of course, the reality hit home when I realised I was merely spending an evening in a Soho screening room, watching this 3D porn flick with, mainly, fellow males. But therein lies the problem – why should pornography penetrate the mainstream? Many of the stars of 3D Sex and Zen are full-time hardcore porn stars, and it’s not overtly difficult to track them down via the internet and, crucially, for free. So, what’s the point?
Well, firstly, this (theoretically) isn’t a standalone montage of sex scenes interspersed with sparse dialogue indicating some sort of vague plot. Set in the saucy 1600s, the film is an adaptation of the novel The Carnal Prayer Mat, although how it’s debatable as to how faithful this interpretation really is. And as for the story itself? Well, it’s that well-worn chestnut concerning a young scholar who fails to satisfy his breathtakingly beautiful wife and is taken under the wing of the local sex god who introduces our flaccid hero to a non-stop carnival of sexual delights where he discovers how to make love for entire days. Phew. However, his new found prowess goes straight to his head and crotch as he repeatedly betrays his long-suffering wife and replaces his microscopic member with that of a donkey’s. Honestly, it could happen to any of us.
3D Sex and Zen is a positively lavish affair throughout. The orgiastic gorefests take place in vast cavernous proto-Playboy Mansions supplanted with the sporadic 3D effects ensuring various phallic symbols and the occasional stray, luscious breast is thrust at the audience. The sex scenes initially are generally of the soft-pornography kind albeit interspersed with the odd moment of casual rape - one memorable scene sees someone literally fucked to death.
Indeed, a more linguistically advanced colleague of mine has referred to the film as being a little too rapey – the sex does get progressively more violent, barebacking becomes the norm and an increasing number of implements are used in support of each conquest. Does this make it one of the most offensive commercial films ever released? Not really – no one could surely take any of this seriously. The film rises above the bog-standard porn movie due to its superior production standards and the occasional moments of humour. But the subtitles are dreadful or maybe it’s just the dialogue – either way, neither amount to very much.
The film certainly deludes itself with notions of ‘high art’ throughout – there are heartfelt odes to the poeticism of love punctuating the porn – but these seem feeble and forced. Who needs wistful moments of Romanticism when you are soon faced with a pansexual Shaman, capable of extraordinary sexual tricks, and replete with an enormous penis-like appendage attached to his/her thigh which is then used to pummel men’s faces into an unrecognisable pulp?
To its credit, the savage screwing is varied in length and tone and never outstays its welcome. But I can’t see this film heralding a whole new era for pornography. Instead, this is simply glossy, unsophisticated and unintentionally funny adult vewing. But most worryingly, this is the work of a father-son screenwriting team, Stephen Shiu and Stephen Shiu Jr., which begs the question: what could Mrs. Shiu possibly think?
So there you go. A frankly insane looking mix of extreme violence and fortuitous nakedness, a heady combination not unlike that found in Japanese cinema's legendary 'pink' genre. Now if only there were some sort of pinky retrospective triple bill we could all go and watch in a couple of weeks...