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  Sex & Zen The Sensual World
Year: 1992
Director: Michael Mak
Stars: Lawrence Ng, Kent Cheng, Lo Lieh, Amy Yip, Isabella Chow, Carrie Ng, Mari Ayukawa, Tomoko Ino
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Sex, Historical, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Many years ago, a lothario and scholar, Vesperus (Lawrence Ng), visited a wise monk to ask him about the limits of his sexual behaviour. Vesperus didn't see anything wrong with bedding as many women as he could, so when the monk told him that this was not the Buddhist way and could corrupt his soul, he was less than impressed as he was hoping for a more modern point of view. He leaves the monk behind and disregards his advice, but nevertheless is being married soon to the innocent Jade (Amy Yip), whose father has sternly guarded her purity. The wedding night arrives but it's something of a disaster, with Jade believing that sex is a chore to be endured, and her new husband naturally believing otherwise. However, they do make progress thanks to Vesperus' perseverance - if only he had restricted himself to her alone...

The end credits of Sex & Zen, or Rou Pu Tuan Zhi Tou Qing Bao Jian as it was known originally, proudly claim an endorsement by Penthouse, because this was the first Chinese erotic movie to make any impact with Western audiences. It was a big hit at home, too, and made a cult star of Yip, who became famous more for what she didn't show than what she did, even though there's a long stretch in the middle where she doesn't appear at all. The story is based on a famous in China, banned novel called The Carnal Prayer Mat, supposedly the Chinese Kama Sutra, but how faithful it is I couldn't say as there's a real mishmash of tone here.

It starts out like a traditional martial arts film, but is in fact more of a marital arts film, only with the fight sequences replaced with imaginative sex scenes; our hero is like a wandering fighter determined to have his satisfaction with every attractive woman he crosses paths with, much as a fighter would seize a chance to test his skills. After teaching her the benefits of a healthy sex life, Vesperus leaves his wife behind saying he's going to continue his studies, which in a way is true, but in an alternative way is a barefaced lie. What he really wants to do is continue his sexual studies, and on the way he meets master thief and fighter Choi (Lo Lieh) who after replacing the cash in his wallet with stones, fulfills the role of the wise teacher, in a slightly crazed way, of course.

Although ostensibly a drama, the mood pinballs around from belly laughs to outright tragedy. As with British and American sex comedies, there's a price to pay for all this loose living, but Sex & Zen goes much further. Before we get there, there is a selection of highlights, which range from two Ladies finding an unusual use for a flute that gives them mutual satisfaction to a hilarious bit where the inadequate-feeling Vesperus goes to have a horse's member transplanted onto his body, which proves to be the best example of wacky humour you may find in any such erotic film, not only from Hong Kong but from any country. There's almost something for everyone here, with straight sex mixed with sadomasochism, and all presented with a sly wink, but many might not go along with the morally improving sentiment of the finale where the wayward characters harshly learn the error of their ways. It's a bit much. Music by Wing-leung Chan.

[Hong Kong Legends Region 2 DVD doesn't feature much in the way of extras, just trailers and an essay.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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