Sex And Zen

cast: Amy Yip, Isabella Chow, Mari Ayukawa, Rena Murakami, and Lawrence Ng

director: Michael Mak

90 minutes (18) 1997
widescreen ratio 16:9
Hong Kong Legends DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Tom Johnstone

This bawdy farcical collection of sizzling set pieces and sexual high jinks is a refreshing antidote to the anaemically ‘tasteful’ soft focus porn of Ecstasy, Christina, and other variously dismal offerings from the Playboy collection, reviewed elsewhere on this site. The accompanying text on the DVD hails Sex And Zen as the film that brought the cinema of Hong Kong to the attention of the western world, and it is easy to see why. With scenes like two lesbians simultaneously pleasuring each other with a flute, a poorly endowed man receiving a transplant of a horse’s penis, and underwater sex in a bathtub, what’s not to like?

The film is (very loosely) based on an ancient oriental erotic text, and tells the story of a geeky young man’s amorous misadventures under the tutelage of a thief who first tries to steal from him, then points out his sexual short-comings, comparing his manhood to a toothpick. Together they indulge in a spot of voyeurism, spying on a couple’s impossible sexual acrobatics, including a stunt with a chain that beggars belief. The man is brutish but well endowed, the woman cowed and under the thumb. On seeing this, the geeky young man hits on the only solution to his inadequacy. He asks the local quack to perform the aforementioned transgenic operation – as you do… Then he uses his new sexual potency to seduce the woman he spied on and rescue her from her abusive relationship. Meanwhile, his own wife is getting sexually frustrated, and ends up having underwater sex with the brutish husband her own husband has cuckolded.

All this might seem rather juvenile and silly (it is!). But it is brought to life with a cartoon-like zest painted in vivid, sensual colours that enhance the larger than life porno slapstick of the numerous set pieces. And there is a sort of serious point to all the tomfoolery. The geeky central character becomes so obsessed with gaining sexual experience and prowess, that having popped his young wife’s cherry, he abandons her in his quest for new partners, and the sexual conquests he achieves by virtue of his surgically enhanced member eventually leave him exhausted and jaded.