It has finally happened! Softcore pornography has gone 3D and I’m not talking about the cup sizes of the actresses! Hailed as the first 3D softcore porno in the world, 3D Sex and Zen (玉蒲团) brought eroticism onto a voyeuristic level as audiences get the feeling of being at the scene of the act.
I had the privilege of being invited to the film’s premiere and experienced first-hand what watching an erotic film on a big screen is like. And in THREE-DIMENSIONAL format! But more than smut getting an ‘A’ for adding another ‘D’ (from 2D films to 3D), I was more surprised that such a film genre got mainstream publicity and screenings at branded cinema chains in Singapore. So watching Sex and Zen was somewhat like being part of a historic event.
Singapore is not new to such films, which are known as Category III movies (equivalent to R21-rating in the current Board of Film Censors rating system). In the post-independence formative years of our appetite for cinematic entertainment, Singaporeans were fed drama serials and movies from the Hollywood of the East, Hong Kong. Then came the 1980s, a period where the Hong Kong film industry began to churn out what the audience wants – more graphic representations of sex, violence and gore.
In 1988, Category III was introduced in Hong Kong to classify and regulate such films. Initially, Category III was for all films that were considered sexually explicit or featured excessive violence and gore. But today, this classification is synonymous with those films that are interested to show more titties than than anything else. These films do make their way to our shores, but hush-hush like otah under the wraps of pandan leaves… you can smell them, but you don’t patronise. Over time, Cat 3 movies in Singapore retreated to the obscure Yangtze Cinema in Chinatown where the mostly older gentlemen audience get a chance to workout their biceps. I was sure it’s an urban myth until a friend of mine who worked there as a projectionist and hall steward for a while told me that tissue paper was the best-selling item there.
So you see, films like 3D Sex and Zen belonged to the celluloid underworld, not something that gets a billing in mainstream cinema. I watched the movie at Golden Village Vivocity. I won’t go into details about the storyline because Google will tell you that :
- The movie was shown in its entire 102 minutes without cuts in Singapore! That’s something to pop champagne over except that this version is actually a self-censored edition by the movie’s distributors. The full version is 135 minutes and the Hong Kong version clocked at 129 minutes,
- It is based on an erotic 17th century novel, The Carnal Prayer Mat, by playwright Li Yu,
- This is the 3rd re-make of previous 2 versions, one of which made Amy Yip (remember this bombshell with flesh-textured melons for breasts?) really famous,
- And that the story is about a lusty scholar who has a small *ahem* penis on a foray to increase his sexual prowess while unbeknownst to him, fell into a trap set by his best friend to exact revenge on him for stealing the former’s wife-to-be.
So is it worth watching? It was a long time since I’d seen a Cat 3 movie as the low production standards and cheesy dirty jokes that plague such shows don’t turn me on. But 3D Sex and Zen was quite an experience because of the 3D effect even though the human figures don’t seem to pop up as much as the sets (eg. flying daggers, flying shards from smattered objects, an elixir that can sustain an erection for 49 days, etc).
Plus, it’s an erotic comedy so the blatant sex jokes were a refreshing change from insinuated sexual referances of movies for the general population and the movie sparred no graphic death scenes. The segment where the villian (King Ning) was stabbed in the thorax by a sharp lotus ornament with the wound gapping made my skin crawl. The movie also took itself too seriously to preach that love trumps sex to the point where I found the attempt hilarious. And I really liked the abstract and artistic opening credits in the style of a flowing Chinese ink painting.
But I didn’t like the fact that it was censored as there are obvious lapses where I spent quite of bit of mental reasoning for what might have happened to catch up to the continuation of the story. I can’t be sure but I think some scenes containing rape, S&M and sexualising of religion were snipped, thereby causing holes in the emotional arches of the characters (eg. one scene we saw an old monk talking to a woman disguised as a man out to seduce him, and next scene, we saw a knife through his heart. I know what happened, but I’m not given the time and space to feel for the monk’s remorse.)
Yet, those are just small annoyances to the main objective of coming to a movie like this… it was to see how 3D smut looks like. In that aspect, I would say that 3D Sex and Zen gave a pretty good idea of things to come in the realm of human erotica. It’s a far fetch, but may this re-welcome of Cat 3 movies pave the way for a more open attitude towards sex in Singapore and hopefully, gasp!, increase birth rates!
I’ve come across video clips of the censored scenes online. Very graphic and shocking! Now I know why they were cut. I wonder how long the clips will remain on the web…