Written by: Michael Den Boer on October 10th, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: Hong Kong, 1991
Director: Michael Mak
Writer: Alexander Lee
Cast: Lawrence Ng, Kent Cheng, Rena Murakami, Lieh Lo, Amy Yip, Isabella Chow, Carrie Ng, Mari Ayukawa, Elvis Tsui, Feng Tien
DVD Released: October 13th, 2009
Approximate Running Time: 90 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo Cantonese, Dolby Digital Stereo English
DVD Release: Eastern Star / Discotek
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $29.95
Synopsis: A scholar with an uncontrollable sex drive gets married in hope of diverting attention away from his sexual escapades.
The plot for Sex and Zen is loosely based on “The Carnal Prayer Mat” a Chinese novel of erotic stories. The plot revolves around the sexual mid adventures of a scholar named Mei Yeung-Sheng who quest for sexual enlightenment nearly kills him. He sets out to bed as many women as he can after a sexual mishap with his bride on their wedding night. Unable to get women to jump into bed with solely base don his good looks, he enlists the help of a master thief named Chor Kun-Lun who has the ability to get into places unseen. Before he takes Mei Yeung-Sheng up on his offer, Chor Kun-Lun takes him on a dry run in which they spy on a fabric maker named Wong Chut and his wife. Wong Chut is a cruel man with a sex drive that dwarfs an average mans ability to stay hard. Unimpressed with his eager disciple Chor Kun-Lun refuses to help Mei Yeung-Sheng because he has a small penis. Not willing to give up just yet, Mei Yeung-Sheng finds a doctor who performs an experimental procedure in which he gives Mei Yeung-Sheng a horse’s penis. With his new found organ to help his sexual prowess Mei Yeung-Sheng finally gets Chor Kun-Lun to help him. While all of this is happening Mei Yeung-Sheng has been neglecting his wife Huk-Yeung who has her own needs and overwhelmed with loneliness she seeks comfort elsewhere.
The plot does a good job balancing the sex scenes with the more dialog driven moments that propel the plot forward. Even though the film leans more towards the Sex angle, the Zen angle puts everything perfectly into perspective during the film’s finale. The one area where this film stands out the most is its exceptional cinematography which fully exploits the inventive erotic set pieces. Besides the abundance of sex on display, the film does a clever job mixing some comedy into between the films more erotic and melodramatic moments. Performance wise the entire cast is pitch perfect in their respective roles with the film’s best performance coming from Amy Yip (Erotic Ghost Story), in the role of Huk-Yeung the scholars’ wife. Without a doubt this is her greatest performance as an actress. Her erotica scenes like when she holds a paint brush with her vagina or where she is having sex in a bath tub are sure to get the blood flowing. The cast features a few recognizable faces like Carrie Ng (Naked Killer), Elvis Tsui (A Chinese Torture Chamber Story) and Lieh Lo (King Boxer), in the role of Chor Kun-Lun. Sex and Zen’s effortlessly balancing drama, comedy and erotica is why this film works as well now as it did back when it was released is. It should come as no surprise that Sex and Zen was one of most successful category III to ever emerge out of Hong Kong cinema during the 1990’s.
Eastern Star presents Sex and Zen in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the film’s original aspect ratio. This transfer has been flagged for progressive playback. This is a solid looking transfer that boasts vivid colors, healthy looking flesh tones, details look sharp and black levels remain strong and consistent throughout. The source used is in great shape as there is no noticeable print damage.
This release comes with two audio options a Dolby Digital Stereo Cantonese and a Dolby Digital Stereo English. Removable English subtitles that are easy to read and follow have been provided. Also these are not dub titles as they are a direct translation of the Cantonese audio track. Both audio mixes sound crystal clear, clean and balanced throughout.
Extras include an international release trailer for the film (1 minutes 52 seconds – with English text – anamorphic widescreen), the film’s original Hong Kong release trailer (3 minutes 14 seconds – in Cantonese with English subtitles – anamorphic widescreen), an stills related extra titled “Picture Montage” which contains 19 images and a interview with director Michael Mak (13 minutes 25 seconds – in Cantonese with English subtitles – letterboxed widescreen). This a well rounded interview in which Michael Mak discusses his first foray into erotic cinema, the difficulty of casting the male lead for this film, working with Amy Yip, the inspiration behind the film’s visual style and the numerous takes needed to get the sex scenes to look convincing. Rounding out the extras are trailers for Ebola Syndrome, Taxi Hunter, A Chinese Torture Chamber Story, The Storm Riders and Burning Paradise. Overall Sex and Zen gets a fully loaded DVD release from Eastern Star, highly recommended.