In Ming dynasty China, lusty young scholar Wei Yangsheng (Hiro Hayama) falls in love with beautiful maiden, Tie Yuxiang (Lan Yan). Unfortunately their marriage soon runs out of steam when Yangsheng fails to satisfy his wife in bed, owing to his comically small manhood. Intrigued by rumours about the debauched Prince Ning (Tony Ho), Yangsheng visits his fabled “Pavilion of Extreme Ecstasy” where a whole harem of naked nymphs are kept to satisfy men’s wildest fantasies. At the invitation of Prince Ning, Yangsheng shares a spectacular shag with Ruizhu (Saori Hara), a comely concubine whose tantric sex skills can prolong lovemaking for endless hours. He then goes to the extreme of getting a donkey’s schlong transplanted in place of his own meagre member, so he can bang ten women at a time. Now estranged from her husband, poor Yuxiang seeks solace in an affair with studly peasant Quan (Kirt Kishita), little realising he is a spy working for Prince Ning, who it turns out has far more sinister intentions for sex-happy young couple.
Despite inaccurately billing itself as the first 3D sex film, 3D Sex & Zen - Extreme Ecstasy earned its infamy dethroning Avatar (2009) as the highest-grossing film at the Chinese box office, stirring some embarrassment amongst government officials torn between traditionally conservative and censorious attitudes and their fiscal delight over a homegrown hit. It also drew surprisingly positive reviews, proving people really had missed the Hong Kong Category III historical sex romp genre that was once on the verge of extinction. Veteran exploitation hand Cash Chin Man-Kei revived the genre with The Forbidden Legend: Sex & Chopsticks (2008) having previously helmed the highpoint of the Sex & Zen franchise, Sex & Zen II (1996). While the sequels were written and produced by prolific schlock mogul Wong Jing, this big budget 3D reboot finds original producer Stephen Shiu back on board mounting what is essentially a remake of the first Sex & Zen (1991) although the plot is not entirely the same.
Fans of the series will find themselves on familiar ground with the usual oddball mix of Carry On level bawdy humour with loopy martial arts action and grand guignol gross-out atrocities ranging from the infamous transplant sequence to the unforgettable sight of sexy hemaphrodite sorceress Elder of Bliss (Vonnie Lui) performing tricks with his/her extendible CGI gold penis! Lavish production values and oodles of oft-unclad eye-candy from a largely Japanese cast of adult video stars ensure the film proves an eye-popping spectacle in more ways than one, with 3D effects including knives, mahjongg tiles and a severed penis flying at the screen along with the expected bouncing boobs and a surprising amount of spurting blood, though mercifully no other bodily fluids. The gravity-defying sex is undeniably outrageous and at times titillating yet first-time director Christopher Sun paces the action poorly. At two hours long this has its dull patches and though it looks handsome enough, the visuals lack the artistry that made earlier entries so evocative, sporting a flat look presumably to accommodate the 3D effects.
Whereas the original films were largely light-hearted, here the tone slowly segues from jolly sexual shenanigans towards gory gothic sadism and regrettable misogyny, somewhat closer in line with rival Category III productions like Chinese Torture Chamber Story (1994) from whence it lifts a torture sequence involving a wooden horse. Possibly as a result of the mainland censor, the film appears torn between progressive attitudes in allowing both husband and wife to have sexual indiscretions while remaining sympathetic characters and ensuring everyone suffers mightily for their carnal urges. As with earlier entries there are vaguely philosophical undertones drawing parallels between the ephemeral nature of happiness and the brief bliss of orgasm. Early into the film Wei Yangsheng asks an elderly couple how they can still feel love when no longer able to make love, and the arc of the film hammers home the moral that real love is more valuable than physical pleasure. There is an interesting contrast drawn between Yangsheng’s need to constantly prove his manliness and the attitude of his rival, scholar Shun Shang Guang (Jason Yiu Luk-Ming) who genuinely loves and cares for his many concubines. He also emerges a far more caring lover for Yuxiang, though after a night of passion alongside his other wives, she tearfully bids farewell to go rescue her feckless husband. Yet although the coda proves sweetly romantic, the film ultimately presents sex as an obstacle to love, which is a curious message unlikely to go down well with thrill-seeking smut fans.