For a film so proud of its trail-blazing status (“Hong Kong’s first IMAX 3-D erotic film”), 3d Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy is certainly driven by the same good old symptoms. This lavishly flamboyant orgiastic gorefest takes place in a cavernous harem world filled with concubines perennially open for business and men who collect them. It’s kind of like the real world but less insidious.
This masculinist fantasy space looks like the anthropomorphic artist’s studio in Yasuzo Masumura’s Blind Beast and has something of the dreaminess of James Bidgood’s Pink Narcissus yet none of its sophistication. Instead of Bidgood’s hairless twinks charmingly holding a telephone and rugged half-naked construction workers peeing in sidewalk urinals, here women are casually raped, beaten, drowned, cut up, flogged, and choked.
There’s a storyline involving emperors, chastity belts, and metal plates, but it’s slightly confusing and largely nonsensical. A production-design feat with impeccable lighting and costume design, as well as grotesquely comedic special effects, 3D Sex and Zen is never really erotic. And it’s only pornographic in the sense that it borrows the all-purpose sexism that underlines most heterosexual pornography: sex as a necessarily violent, barebacking, and collective raping affair in which accounts between men get settled. The question of female pleasure is an unfathomable one, but they seem to approach orgasm in 3D Sex and Zen when they have sex with one another with the help of kinky objects such as needles and scalpels. Although maybe it’s just the look of relief from taking a break from their rape-material duties.
There are a lot of intricate set pieces and exquisite textures in 3D Sex and Zen, but absolutely no sense of mood or style. It’s a closed brothel world inhabited by hackneyed buffoons and even more hackneyed narratives sheathed in flashy velvet and the most infantile airborne objects reach out in 3D. All of the eye-candy feels like a lifeless excuse to watch daggers fly, blood trickle, limbs fall off, and breasts get smacked. If the film’s Schadenfreude perversions are predictable, its inadvertent avowals of male insecurity and castration anxiety can be quite entertaining. For example, a scene in which a female-looking “androgynous being with extraordinary sex tricks” and a non-passable butch voice turns the snake-like accessory she has wrapped around her thigh into a huge cock that can lift wooden wheels and smack men’s faces into a pulp. This Sphinx of a transsexual then promptly recoils her cock into a thigh bracelet to the standing ovation of the men in the room only to be later pursued by those who need her consulting services. There’s also a penis-swapping motif, the only act for which women don’t seem to be needed, as small-endowed men can trade their angry inch for more 3D-friendly limbs like horse or donkey cocks.