Sex & Zen (1991)

Directed by Michael Mak Tong Hung

Produced by Stephen Siu Yeuk Yuen

Starring Lawrence Ng Kai Wah, Amy Yip Chi Mei, Isabella Chow Wan, Kent Cheng Juk Si, Rena Murakami, Carrie Ng Kar Lai, Lo Lieh, Elvis Tsui Kam Kong, Ino Tomoko

Sex & Zen

There will be NO objective review here (as a word of warning). I've lost count of the number of times that I have either reviewed, or written about, this most famous of all Hong Kong sex comedies, but the one constant has been that I have never grown tired of it, nor has my enthusiasm for it been diminished by repeated viewing. This is an incredibly entertaining, and explicit, sex farce that effectively stands as the pinnacle of Hong Kong's adult (soft-core) film industry. Previously filmed by Taiwanese director Ho Fan as "Yu Pui Tsuen" in 1986, and based upon 400-year-old manuscript "Carnal Prayer Mat" by Li Yu, it is Michael Mak's rendition that sits as the definitive Hong Kong sex farce.

Mei Yeung Sheng (Ng) is a Ming Dynasty scholar who, after heated debate with a local Buddhist monk, sets out to prove that enlightenment can be achieved through the pleasures of the flesh. His marriage to local lord Master Iron Door's daughter, Huk Yeung (Yip), sets the wheels in motion for the beginning of his odyssey. Although prudish and frightened by the prospect of sex, she eventually succumbs to Mei's ways, but he seeks more than his wife can supply. Partaking the greenery one afternoon with his manservant, he happens across master thief Choi Kun Lun (Lo), who both forms a bond of friendship with him and promises to assist him in his quest. Soon the beautiful Shui Chu (Chow) crosses his path, thus his first conquest has presented herself. Unbeknownst to Mei, Shui is engaged in a fetishistic relationship with Fa Sun (Murakami), and he must first measure up to Choi's exacting standards.

A voyeuristic visit to local silk merchant Wong Chut's (Tsui) house soon affirms Mei of his shortcomings. Choi vows that he will not assist Mei in his hedonistic journey until his "shortcomings" have grown to the size of that of a horse. A chance encounter with revolutionary doctor Tin Chan (Cheng) swiftly allows him to achieve Choi's seemingly impossible request. Gifted with new found dimensions, Mei quickly forgets his wife (anyone who can neglect Ms. Yip is superhuman!) and commences his passage to enlightenment through any woman he can get his hands on. However, the path is not without its obstacles, hence Mei must suffer lustful excess, treachery, deceit, and ultimate redemption before fate can show him the true price of his erroneous conceit.

Mak's film is equal parts raucous sex comedy and sagely advice that sometimes getting what one wants has greater consequences than being content with what one has. The film is visually luscious thanks in no small part to Peter Ngor's (who had previously helmed "Erotic Ghost Story 2") exemplary cinematography and Raymond Lee's enchanting Art design. The captivating look of the film is augmented near perfectly by an impossibly attractive cast, featuring some of the most striking beauties to grace Category III cinema. The sex is played in both exaggerated comic-book fashion (sometimes quite explicit�the scene with the flute is obviously not simulated) and lushly erotic style. There are moments where an element of violence threatens to detract from the lurid atmosphere, but thankfully this is limited to just two occasions, and is overwhelmed by the insanely humorous focus the film revels in. To say any more would spoil the cacophony of surprises that the film offers a first-time viewer�J

Have I ever seen "Sex & Zen" looking as good as this? In a word�no. Per a great many of Media Asia's catalogue of films, this one appears to have been transferred from film via down-conversion to PAL, then mastered to NTSC (the film proper actually runs 89m14s), but don't let that put you off. The colours are surprisingly vibrant, and the image quality is quite a treat throughout. Being 10 years old, the print used is a little worse for wear with dust marks, speckles, and occasional scratches present. Personally, I didn't give rat's arse about this, as this disc is definitely the best I've seen Michael Mak's film looking (possibly) ever! Although the audio is plain Dolby 2.0, I could never imagine this film justifying a 5.1 remix (What would the neighbours think?), and it services both the heavy breathing, cacophony of groans, and Chan Wing Leung's score quite nicely thank you very much.

You want Extras with all of this? I doubt there would be much else in Media Asia's archives to call upon other than what there is (Film storage being notoriously what it is in Hong Kong). Half a dozen Star Files (which make for interesting reading) are on hand, as well as the original Hong Kong cinema trailer (which includes some brief S&M scenes that didn't make the final cut of the film). The package is rounded out with additional trailers for the first 3 "Erotic Ghost Story" films (would anybody be offended if I went "Woohoo!" right about here?).

Unless you're terribly prudish, don't think�just buy it! Well? What are you waiting for? Don't let me hold you up�stop reading & get thee to or NOW!

Review by M.C.Thomason

Released by Universe Laser & Video
Category III - Region 0
Audio - Dolby digital 1.0 (Cantonese & Mandarin)
Ratio - Widescreen 1.78
Running time : approx 90 mins (PAL speed)
Extras :
Trailer; Attractions trailers; Star files