When it comes to sex comedies, I've yet to see one that tops Sex and Zen in terms of taking sexual gags to such an absurd level. In the mid 80's to early 90's, when laughter and titillation were stirred together in America in the form of horny teens (a tradition still carried on to this day thanks to the undying American Pie franchise), Hong Kong had a booming industry mixing softcore eroticism and wuxia in a light, jesting fashion. Sex and Zen, now a cult hit in all the right circles, is one of the more famous and enduring ones—deservedly so.
It's not enough that the sex scenes are arousing, as often the case with regular softcore outputs; Sex and Zen makes sure to have each of them be so creative in their execution that they entertain with as much showmanship as they would display in a true martial arts choreography. We don't just get two tangled flesh rolling around on a bed or a kitchen counter; they fly through the air, they create whirlpools in hot tubs, they swing on silk banners and perform backbreaking acrobatics, all the while accompanied by amusing moves, comical sound effects and cartoon destruction.
Being a costume period film, there's considerable effort and budget put into the production. Erotic films with borderline pornographic sex scenes done in lavish period setting or carefully and professionally shot is nothing new, but there is a strange (yet exciting) disconnect when the sex is sleazy rather than tasteful, and the story so farcical, involving stealth adultery and horse penis transplant.
Lawrence Ng, who later expressed regret over having played the role, plays a scholar and would-be monk who believes that the path to enlightenment lies in getting laid as much as possible. He marries a wealthy virgin played by Hong Kong mega sex symbol Amy Yip. The scholar asks a master thief to teach him the art of sneaking into homes undetected, so he can bed other people's wives, but the thief stipulates that the scholar must first make himself more well-endowed. What's a horny scholar to do, except to hire a doctor to switch his penis with that of a horse's?
To be honest, the film functions better as porn than comedy (the gags are extremely low-brow, as you can imagine), but if, like myself, you prefer your sex fun and funny, it makes the whole thing merry. Sex and Zen was a box office hit in Hong Kong and later became a hit in other countries, as well. It spawned two sequels, the first of which made Shu Qi a superstar.
A region free DVD has been available from Image Entertainment for many years, but last October a new Region 1 edition was released by Eastern Star with a more discreet cover. Netflix currently carries the old Image Entertainment edition.
Watch Out! is a feature on JustPressPlay where Arya Ponto showcases lesser-known, lesser-appreciated and often bizarre small films that are cool and deserve to get some attention. Venture here to see all previous entries.