The early 90's saw a renewed interest in Hong Kong genre cinema that hadn't been seen since the chop socky days of the 70's. There was an increased attention and importing of the likes of Jackie Chan's blockbuster stunt action-comedies, the arthouse drama of Wong Kar Wai, John Woo's heroic gunplays, and Ronny Yu and Ching Tsui Tung's new wave fantasies, just to name a few. Deservedly among the mix was Michael Mak's Sex and Zen (1991) which one could say is the Citizen Kane of HK's Category 3 sex romps.
Very loosely based on the banned classic "The Carnal Prayer Mat", Sex and Zen begins with horndog Scholar Mei (Lawernce Ng) getting lecture from a Buddhist monk that he needs to stop his carnal ways once he gets married. Mei disagrees and sees no reason why marriage should prevent him from his pursuit of earthly delights with whomever he can bed. By the end of the film, Mei has more or less learned a lesson about overindulgence, but not before 90 or so minutes of near wall to wall skin baring and body grinding have occurred.
Mei's new wife, Chou Yin (buxom Cat III icon Amy Yip), is his opposite, a total prude who sees sex as nothing but a shameful, painful, uncomfortable act. Their wedding night consummation consists of Chou Yin gagging herself, coldly laying down with her feet in stirrups, abd insists that Mei drug her with desensitizing creams and potions. He eventually opens her up to enjoying the sins of the flesh, but Mei is quickly distracted and runs off to find new conquests.
In order to sneak into the homes of pent up housewives, Mei enlists the aide of a notorious, good natured thief (Lo Leih). Mei sets his sights on an abused silk merchants wife, but he quickly goes from Don Juan to Don Wanting (I'm going to Hell for that pun) after he catches sight of her hubby's (Elvis Tsui) massive member. With the help of an experimental transplant surgeon, Mei has his diminutive organ replaced with a horses. Thats right. John Holmes ain't got nothin' on Scholar Mei's horse dong.
There is more to the film, of course, from the silk merchants revenge on Mei by bedding his left behind, lovelorn wife, to Mei's downward spiral and sickness from debauchery, and finally a half-hearted message about the perils of leading a licentiousness lifestyle. But, really, what the film is all about is fun carnality, from whipping, tumbling, gymnastic sex, underwater hot tub bump and splosh, vagina calligraphy, bread loaf humping, and girl on girl fluteplay.
Now, this is how all sex films should operate. No need for tales of lusty photographers or strip club owners bedding some vacant tarts in faux softcore thrillers. While it is a little sloppy in its overall stroytelling, Sex and Zen has lowbrow wit and, most of all, imagination so great, you can watch the film purely for entertainment rather than titillation. It's a real shame that Cat III, softcore, fantasy films like Sex and Zen, Erotic Ghost Story 2, and Chinese Torture Chamber Story have become all but non-existent because it was such a distinct HK genre. Sex and Zen showcases sex that is purely in the realm of the fantastic, a far cry from the vanilla sex you'll find in your average Skinemax flick. The sex scenes are zany, enthusiastic, clever and every bit as engrossing as a solid action sequence.
While the film does have some misogynistic parts, females on the recieving end of some forced sex, in the end, the women get their rocks off and have as much control as the men. Hell, they even prove that all you need is a good brush and your man can be replaced. Its certinaly much less offensive than a Japanese tentacle hentai or pinku rape film. The tone is light and the film is very heavy on comedy, including the notorious penis transplant sequence, which is a real holwler. Scenes like the thief insisting to see the horse dong aroused, so he and Mei's assistant,... uhhh, help out, so to speak,.. . have to go down in the annals of HK filmdom as a great example of the gloriously rude and imaginative tastes of Hong Kong humor.
The DVD: Joy Sales. REGION 3 Encoded.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. The remastered print is absolutely gorgeous, tight, clean, with good grain detail. Considering the genre, the garish soft focus is fitting. The vibrant colors are finally well presented (old prints always suffered from tons of bleed) and the fleshtones are well-rounded with eye catching hues of white, tan, and (nothing naughty intended) pink. Compression artifacts appear to be minimal and I didn't catch any severe issues like edge enhancement or hints of severe shimming.
Sound: Cantonese DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1, and original 2.0 track. Optional Chinese or English subtitles. Very nice mix with good response all around. I'm a traditionalist and I was thankful to find that the DTS and 5.1 mixes were pleasantly free of annoying refurbishing. The subtitle translation was quite good, well-timed, no distracting errors, though the typeface isn't a favorite.
Extras: Slipcase. -- A stunning, short booklet, on high quality paper, with poster and lobby card art. -- Trailers (Original and New). -- Still Photo Gallery and Slideshow. -- Interview with director Micheal Mak (13:25). Sorry, no English subs.
Conclusion: Get it. A great disc that shows how HK companies are starting to deliver some nice remasters instead of the same old cheapie transfers. If you are an HK fan and you own an all-region player, it is worth importing. Sex and Zen is an HK classic that can be appreciated not only for its wonderful delights of the flesh, but also it's comedy, imagination, and style.