Sex And Zen
Not a lot of Zen, but really – what were you expecting?…
Back in the early nineties few films were as synonymous with the Hong Kong film industry as Sex And Zen. It introduced a generation to the ‘category III’ movie – and boy, it must have been some introduction! The sex scenes were shot with the same techniques and style as the popular ‘wire fu’ action films of the time, like A Chinese Ghost Story and New Dragon Gate Inn. There hadn’t been anything quite like it – and really that’s still true!
Young scholar Mei Yeung-sheng (Lawrence Ng, Centre Stage, The Peace Hotel) is a skilled philanderer, or at least that’s how he would like to think of himself, laughing off Buddhist monk Cotton Sack’s philosophy that you reap just what you sow. He leaves behind his beautiful wife Huk-Yeung (played by the amply, ahem, gifted Amy Yip, Miracles, She Shoots Straight) on a quest to show he can sow as many oats as possible.
Only life is not that simple. Yeung-sheng finds he’s hardly the best endowed of his peers, helpfully pointed out by skilled flying thief Chor Kun-Lun (Lo Lieh, 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Killer Clans, The Magic Blade). Yeung-sheng decides he’d like to be literally hung like a horse, thanks to a surgeon skilled in animal transplants, Dr. Tin Chan (Kent Cheng, Crime Story, Once Upon a Time in China). Only that doesn’t go so well. First the horse’s capacity for alcohol far exceeds the surgeon’s expectations, meaning it doesn’t fall unconscious as expected. Then as Dr. Tin tries to re-attach Yeung-sheng’s manhood, his dog runs off with it.
But that’s only the start of Yeung-sheng’s troubles, as he finds out that there’s more to monk’s words than simply conservatism…
If the inspiration for Sex And Zen, Li Yu’s sensational Ming Dynasty text The Carnal Prayer Mat was meant to titillate rather than educate like the Karma Sutra, then director Michael Mak (Island Of Greed, Butterfly And Sword) stays true to that intention, if somewhat playing down the novels moral dilemmas. With its soft focus on breasts (particularly Miss Yip’s) and (ultimately) moral standpoint, it has more in common with the movies of Russ Meyer. It only really lacks any strong female leads – apart from Madame Ku (Carrie Ng, Naked Killer, Police Confidential) – as you might expect from an Asian film.
The sex isn’t really explicit, and is so outrageously stylised as to be beyond offensive, even when ‘props’ are used – such as a flute or the novel way of holding a paint brush! It’s even sexy, well, kinda. It’s that winning combination of wuxia pian style and, well, sex, that makes the film so successful, watchable even. Forgetting the content for a moment, the whole thing looks so beautiful.
Which doesn’t mean that it’s gross-out moments can’t still out-gross anything teen comedies like American Pie or Farrelly brother movies have thrust in our direction since.
Released within month’s of the equally notorious Naked Killer, it helped kick-start the popularity of the ‘category III’ genre, finding an audience for earlier films like Erotic Ghost Story and Robotrix, both also starring Yip, and inspiring others that followed. But few ever came close.
Oddly, it’s a delight to finally see this movie on DVD in the UK. The remastered quality from this Hong Kong Legends release really is top notch, and seems to be a real commitment from them to make all the classic movies that appear to have been forgotten for so long finally available (between releasing the entire Jackie Chan back catalogue, that is!).
If you’re the sort that enjoys the odd Russ Meyer moment, then this is for you…
Distributor: Hong Kong Legends (UK)
Another fantastic restoration, with superb picture quality. Few extras, though Stefan Hammond, co-author of Sex And Zen and A Bullet In The Head supplies extensive notes on the film.
Good, but I still think the RRP of £16.99 is a little steep for the Ultra-bit collection.