Sunday May 15th 2011
There were certain films I was expecting to see at Cannes and certain films I wasn’t. No prizes for guessing which category 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy falls into.
A trailer for the film ‘hit the web’ a few weeks back and bemused Western audiences with its claim of having the highest opening day gross in Hong Kong cinema history, beating Avatar. It didn’t seem possible that such a gimmicky, mindless, exploitative film could have made so much money. And the fact that 3D Sex and Zen had beaten it was even weirder.
I hadn’t seen the trailer, but went along to the sole Cannes market screening of the film expecting soft-focus, soft-core, po-faced, mildly arousing erotica that might at least sustain my attention for half an hour of its grossly-extended 2hr runtime.
I COULD NOT HAVE BEEN MORE WRONG.
We were given antibacterial cleaning wipes when we arrived, which were definitely for cleaning the 3D glasses and nothing else whatsoever. Still, you wouldn’t volunteer to pick them all up at the end of the screening, would you?
Some of the cast and crew were at the screening and gave the film a charmingly chirpy introduction, smiling excitedly as if they were talking about Winnie the Pooh or something rather than a 3D porn film. During the intro, we tried to count the number of women in the 400-seat cinema. There can’t have been more than 10. It seemed plastering the phrase ‘ACTRESSES APPEARANCE!!’ across all the flyers had done the trick.
We sat in the aisle so we could duck out after the novelty wore off, but fuck me was that an unnecessary measure. Sex and Zen 3D (I’m going to drop the subtitle from this point forward) is one of the most bizarre, inexplicable and genuinely hilarious films I’ve ever seen, and almost certainly the weirdest thing I’ll see during my time in Cannes.
Combining Ming Dynasty era drama, softcore pornography, outrageous farce, supernatural fantasy, martial arts and torture porn, the film offers a hyper-kinetic spectacle that seems unlikely to be repeated any time soon. Basically it’s what Your Highness would have been like if it was even halfway decent.
The sex is (perhaps unsurprisingly) rather coy: there’s no ‘real sex’ and very few full-frontal shots, so instead we get a hell of a lot of breast fondling and various bits of implied downstairs business. But that’s certainly not to say that the film is in any way timid – such a word doesn’t really factor into the equation when you’re watching the ‘Elder of Ultimate Bliss’ spinning a massive wheel on her 10-foot-long mystical penis.
Elsewhere, the Sawesque gore is so extreme that it feels like bits of A Serbian Film have been sliced into the print by accident. Amidst poetic odes to the beauty of art and the importance of love, people are being mutilated, tortured and in some cases, literally fucked to death. It might be the most offensive commercially released film ever made if there was even the slightest chance of someone taking it seriously.
It seems massively unlikely that the BBFC will ever pass the film uncut, what with the abundance of casual rape and all, but if you do get a chance to see 3D Sex and Zen with an audience, take it. It’s an experience I can’t recommend highly enough.
Now pass me that antibacterial wipe.