'Sex & Zen 3D' to play in U.S. theaters
"Sex & Zen 3D: Extreme Ecstasy," a Cantonese-language film billed as the first major 3-D porn movie, has been acquired for theatrical release in North America by China Lion Film Distribution.
An erotic costume drama adapted from the classical Chinese novel "The Carnal Prayer Mat," "Sex & Zen 3D" broke "Avatar's" opening-day box-office record in Hong Kong in April and has earned $1.1 million in six weeks of release in Australia, with a robust per-screen average there of $122,000.
The story of a Ming dynasty-era scholar's sexual awakening, "Sex & Zen 3D" stars Japanese porn actors and includes full-frontal male and female nudity in scenes of explicit and sometimes violent sex.
"Audiences that are better educated, more sophisticated in mind ... will readily appreciate the origin of this film as an adaptation of a Chinese classic," the film's director, Christopher Sun, said of "Sex & Zen 3D's" box office appeal. "These viewers are prepared to take erotic elements as part of the cinematic experience instead of the film's total package."
The titillation factor was enough to lure organized tour groups over the border from mainland China, where censorship rules prohibit exhibition of the film, into Hong Kong. In that territory, a special administrative region of China, "Sex & Zen 3D" carries a Category III rating prohibiting those under 18 from seeing it.
"It's all naughty good fun and there isn't a single boring scene," a Hong Kong-based reviewer for CNNGo said of the film. "From the moment the first pair of jiggly 3D breasts appears -- prompting the male audience members to collectively gasp -- through to the fight scenes with 3D daggers thrown at the audience, this is 3D movie magic at its low-brow erotic best."
The film's Hong Kong distributor tried some unorthodox promotional strategies, including offering special ladies' night screenings of the film with appearances by male cast members. "Our leading actors, director and producer came to say thanks and listen to the comments from the girls' side," Sun said. "The reaction was just beyond expectation."
The film has not yet been rated in the U.S., nor given a release date, according to Robert Lundberg, a spokesman for China Lion. "We’ve seen the success it’s had overseas and we think there’s an audience for it in North America," Lundberg said.
For the U.S. adult entertainment industry, which has been hit hard in recent years by the ready availability of free content on the Internet, "Sex & Zen 3D" may provide a new model for generating revenue using the allure of a big-screen-only experience. But Kristen Wynters, sales director at Van Nuys-based adult entertainment film production company Pink Visual, is dubious.
"The reaction that we get from mainstream theaters in the U.S. is that 3-D technology is cool but they’re not interested in showing porn," Wynters said. "American audiences feel differently about sex. Not everyone wants to see a giant butt coming at their face.”
-- Rebecca Keegan
Photo: A man walks past a poster for "Sex and Zen 3D" in Hong Kong in April. Credit: Associated Press