Sex and Zen Review
An awful lot of movies flounder on the aspiration of being erotic. Whether it is through empty excesses of skin or just a lack of frankness, artful erotica is awfully difficult to find. Films which set out with a supposed sexy intent often prove little more than guilty pleasures, and when the intention to arouse is mixed with the desire to amuse then the quality of the work is often even worse. The empty nudge nudge wink wink of sex comedies is frequently a desert of entertainment and an abyss of creativity, worse still sex comedies are also ruined by national parochialism like British postcard humour and the unfathomable eccentricities of the euro-pudding. Portents for this film are not good therefore as Sex and Zen is a very broad culturally specific sex comedy, and worse still it comes via the recommendation of that great august organ, Penthouse Magazine. The same people who managed to destroy Tinto Brass' Caligula think this is worth your time. Amazingly, they are right and for once a sex comedy works, Sex and Zen is a little bit naughty, a little bit outre and a little bit good. The sumptuous production by Golden Harvest and the strong direction by Michael Mak mean this is a film which achieves what was becoming an oxy moron, quality erotica.
Sex and Zen concerns itself with the erotic adventures of a young scholar who has ridiculed the advice of a Buddhist monk to keep faithful or celibate and has laughed at the idea that his behaviour will result in consequences to him later. The scholar laughs at the notion that his sexual explorations will result in dishonour and disaster for himself and his loved ones. For the main, Mei Yeung-Sheng enjoys the freedom of his convictions and even when he takes a wife he educates her in the ways of licentiousness. On his travels with his young servant, his eye soon starts to wander and he tries to enlist the help of a burglar to help him seduce a couple of married women. The burglar refuses to help him as our scholar lies about being well-endowed and this spurs the scholar to remedy the matter through a rudimentary and dangerous transplant. With the burglar convinced of his magnitude and onside the clothier's wife is Mei's first target. Once cuckolded, the clothier's revenge is one that will convince the scholar of the truth of the monk's words.
There is a mighty amount of soft-focus grappling in Sex and Zen but, unlike many an erotic drama, the skin on show here is sexily presented and the relationships are human enough to justify your interest. The sexual acts on display are occasionally close to the knuckle and I would be heartily surprised if this film got through the British censors for it's flute moment and the quite literal horse gag. That is a shame because despite some cross cultural faux pas which will upset Daily Mail readers everywhere, the humour is great fun and the frequent sex scenes are executed well. The film also takes the much used western hypocrisy approach to titillating by attempting to have a moral message too and wrapping all this humping up with a lesson, but when you look at 5 minutes of redemption for 85 minutes of debauchery there is a case of cake and eat it here as well. Still what a multifaceted horny cake this is with diverse scenes of threesomes, girl on girl action, sadomasochism, food fetishism, and rough sex. All kinds of kinkiness is served up here with a healthy dollop of elegant perversion too.
Lawrence Ng is the scholar who will pay a price for his promiscuity and he has a winning and wicked way with his conquests. He is also adept at the very broad and regularly tasteless humour on show, the moment where his member is swapped for an equine upgrade is hysterical although as a viewer you may be covering your eyes whilst laughing. As his innocent wife, Amy Yip is as pneumatic and as gorgeous as ever, but she does seem to be acting far more than in any other film I have seen her in. Her patented brushstroke technique and her scene in the bathtub with Elvis Tsui as the vengeful clothier are wonderful examples of how this film succeeds on making sexuality exciting and novel. This bawdiness translates to the humour and the tastelessness of the treatment of the clothier's wife and the scholar's adolescent servant may prove too much for some even if it seems in keeping with the bizarre world of the story.
The film is shot beautifully with elegant and vibrant set design not dissimilar to the aesthetics of A Chinese Ghost Story and fine cinematography from Peter Ngor. The joy of this well produced piece extends itself to a cast who all seem to be fully engaged in their coupling and their comedy. There are none of the moments where actors boredly emote sexual pleasure that is the hallmark of the erotic thriller as the cast make you believe in the pleasure on show as much as in the dramatic scenes. The whole film has a texture, wit and warmth to it which gives it charm and lightness and makes the film pleasingly breezy and assuredly sexy. As a viewer you can safely watch the sexual slapstick knowing that it will be funny and also a bit of turn on. Sex and Zen will make you laugh and will make you lust.
This is the best packaged of the digitally remastered releases from JoySales/Fortune Star. This single disc release comes with a fine colour book showing scenes from the film, lobby cards and poster art. There is little text in the book bar a short synopsis of the film in English. The book and dvd case are housed in a dust sleeve which copies the art and text from the disc box. The main feature is presented anamorphically in original aspect ratio and I doubt that the film has looked this good before. The print is nigh perfect and I think the stills here show how nice the picture looks. It is colourful, very sharp and the transfer has little in the way of grain. Contrast has been boosted and the edges have been improved, but neither of these processes have been excessive. It simply looks gorgeous. The sound is offered in three Cantonese tracks, two of them surround and one described as original 2.0 which does seem to be a mono track. The DTS track sounds best of these options but both surround tracks are well created with dialogue and music well balanced and background depth given when needed. Both tracks have strong integration of effects into the various speakers and dialogue does on occasion come elsewhere than from the centre channel. I preferred the DTS track's smoothness but all three tracks lack mastering problems or noise imperfections such as hiss or hum. The disc comes with excellent English subtitles which can be chosen for the film or the interview.
The extras include the original trailer, a re-edited trailer and photo galleries. There is also an interview with Michael Mak where he explains the films relatively large budget and his inspiration for his direction, that of a set of photographs of people's faces at orgasm. Mak comes over as bright and earnest and is very complimentary to his cast.
This is good quality smut with plenty of coarse laughs and bad taste. Mak's film is well made and its moral is that sex turns us into fools. This release is a gem and at R3 prices with a real lack of decent alternatives, fans clearly have no choice.
Last updated: 30/05/2018 20:06:48