3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy (3D 肉蒲团之极乐宝鉴;Hong Kong, 2011)

August 25, 2011

3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy (Hong Kong, 2011), starring Hayama Hiro & Hara Saori

There is nothing “Zen” about this Hong Kong category-3 erotic fantasy (the original Chinese title also recognizes this). Instead, it is an in-your-face display of violence, sadism, faked orgy, flying body parts, penis chopping, throbbing boobs, and over-sized dildos. The term “zen” is a catch phrase in the West, and could represent anything that is mysterious, “oriental,” and possibly hard to understand. Thus, relating sex to zen seems to be a way to make the film more accessible in the West. If this is the case, I would recommend naming the film “Kung Fu Sex,” since many love-making scenes look more “kung fu” than “zen,” including a scene in which an androgyny (played by Hong Kong busty porn star Vonnie Lui) proudly displays his/her prowess by lifting and swirling a wheel with his/her snake-like long penis/dildo. This is also where the film fails. It is supposed to be a soft-core porn with titillating and erotic scenes as major attractions, but the film’s kung fu-style treatment of those scenes, coupled with a thundering  soundtrack and fast-talking dialogue, quickly turns it into an absurdly laughable exhibition of sheer stupidity.

Loosely based on the Chinese sex classic The Carnal Prayer Mat (肉蒲团), which seems to be an inexhaustible source for Hong Kong soft-core films, this recent adaptation re-displays many cliches associated with ancient Chinese sexual techniques of the “inner chamber:” absorbing yin-yang energies, playful use of sex toys, prolonging sex with ecstasy pills, and penis enlargement fantasies. But it does have a modern twist: while it tries, in vain, to deliver an elementary Buddhist message that indulging in excessive sex will result in disaster, it also ends with a laughable moral lesson that love endures without sex (a female chastity belt is introduced) and love conquers everything. Womanizer Wei Yangsheng (the male protagonist) and his lustful wife are portrayed as a devoted couple who stage a Titanic-like finale.

Japanese AV star Hara Saori plays a seductress in "3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy" (Hong Kong, 2011)

As if to combine the Hong Kong softcore tradition and Japanese pink cinema, 3D Sex and Zen has a strong Japanese flavor (or maybe it aims to be an Asian crossover hit). It features several Japanese AV stars, with Hayama Hiro playing Wei Yangsheng, the Chinese scholar obsessed with sexual techniques, Suo Yukiko playing Dongmei, a concubine f**ked to death, and Hara Saori playing a Chinese-style femme fatale. Although mainland actress Lan Yan (蓝燕, or Leni Lan) becomes “toast of the town” in China due to her naked involvement in the film (playing Wei’s lustful wife), it is Japanese AV star Hara Saori (原紗央莉, aka Nanami Mai 七海まい) who easily stands out from other naked bodies with her alluring look and performance, including a scene in which she succeeds in seducing a Buddhist abbot, a recurring theme in traditional Chinese stories, who commits suicide after being aroused.

Released in Hong Kong in April but banned in mainland China, 3D Sex and Zen quickly turns into a cult film for many Chinese who don’t have the opportunity to watch it on the big screen. It was even reported that quite a number of young people had traveled to Hong Kong in groups for the exclusive purpose of experiencing this big-screen ecstasy. Its U.S. release, however, is not going to make a splash in the free and crowded film market. In Los Angeles, it opened on August 12 in two independent theaters (Laemmle). I saw the film in Pasadena and there were no more than 15 people in the 160-seat theater (several of them walked out of the theater in the middle). According to Box Office Mojo, as of August 21, 10 days after its release, the film earned $43,592 at the U.S. box office. The film is marked as NR (Not Rated), meaning it never went to the MPAA rating office, a sure sign that it will never have the hope to play at U.S. commercial theaters.

One interesting aspect about the film’s U.S. landing is that it is distributed by the newly formed China Lion, a joint venture between China-based Jiang Yanming (蒋燕鸣) and New Zealand-based Milt Barlow (the latter via his company, Incubate) with Yanming, the majority shareholder, serving in the role of President and Barlow serving as CEO. I don’t know if it has the backing from the Chinese government, but based on the Chinese films it has distributed (all performed poorly in the U.S. market), including Beginning of the Great Revival (2011), If You are the One II (2010), and The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman (2010), it seems the company is well connected with both the state-run and private studios. But the company needs to be reminded of one basic lesson, which Hollywood has already learned: a blockbuster in China is not necessarily a blockbuster in the U.S.; a small film in China might perform exceedingly well in a different cultural and political context.

As of August 27, 2011, two weeks after its release, the two LA Laemmle theaters have stopped running 3D Sex and Zen. It may signal the end of the film’s North America showing.


Media & Culture in Contemporary China Conference

August 11, 2011

Media & Culture in Contemporary China
October 20-22, 2011
UCLA-USC Joint East Asian Studies Center

The boundaries between Hollywood and Asia are fast disappearing, with Asian corporations playing a key role in U.S. film production, and with American theme parks and retail stores in Japan, Hong Kong and China attracting visitors from all over Asia. The location of Los Angeles and its media industries on the Pacific Rim makes it a vital space to deepen and enrich these trans-Pacific ties.  This conference will explore the globalization of the China entertainment industry and the impact of film and TV on public perception of history and culture in China. It aims to bring together industry leaders, artists, scholars, students, and the public.

The conference will feature a keynote address by Chinese producer and director Zhang Jizhong (张纪中).  Renowned for his TV serializations of the classic Ming dynasty novels, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, The Water Margin, and Journey to the West, he is currently creating a Chinese theme park based on the Monkey King legend.

Conference sessions will focus on the state of the film and TV industry in contemporary China; recreating Chinese history and classic literature in film and TV; and the globalization of theme parks.  Additional sessions will be devoted to graduate student and K-12 teacher training workshops.

Conference planners are UCLA Asia Institute Director R. Bin Wong; UCLA history professor Andrea S. Goldman; David Schaberg, Chair, Department of Asian Languages & Cultures; USC East Asian Studies Center director Stanley Rosen; and USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center director Martin Kaplan.  Additional support comes from the UCLA Confucius Institute and the UCLA-USC Joint East Asian Studies Center, which is comprised of the UCLA Asia Institute and USC East Asian Studies Center, with funds from the US Department of Education Title VI program.  Other partners include the History Department, the Humanities Division, and the International Institute at UCLA and the USC US-China Institute.

For details, including conference schedule, participants, topics, logistics, and contact information in both English and Chinese, please visit the conference website at http://dornsife.usc.edu/mccc

CFP: Hong Kong and Asian Cinema

August 3, 2011

Call for Papers

Hong Kong and Asian Cinema: Creativity and Culture in an Era of Globalization


March 18-20, 2012, HKU

This meeting of the Asian Cinema Studies Society welcomes paper, poster, workshop and panel proposals covering all aspects of Asian film and media. Although proposals related to the conference theme of Hong Kong and Asian cinema in the era of globalization may be given priority, proposals on all aspects of Asian film and media are welcome.

Please send proposals of 200-300 words as RTF or WORD attachments to Dr. Natalie Wong at nslw@hku.hk. For all proposals, be certain to include the title, author(s) name(s), institutional affiliation, mailing address, and email contacts, as well as a brief biography of each contributor. For panel, workshop, and group submissions, be certain to provide a brief description (100 words) of the contribution of each participant. Sessions will be 1 ½ hours in duration, and time limits will be strictly enforced.

Deadline for proposals: December 31, 2011

Notifications of acceptance will be sent out by the end of January 2012.

The organizers regret that they cannot offer any funds for travel or accommodation. However, there will be NO registration fee for those presenting papers, serving as panel chairs, or participating in workshops, poster sessions, or in any other official capacity. Registered guests are welcome to attend as well; however, some conference events/meals may only be available for those presenting papers or serving in other official capacities.

Contact Person: Dr. Natalie Wong at nslw@hku.hk.
Location: The University of Hong Kong.