After seeing the film I was given the chance to speak to director Christopher Sun. During our conversation we discussed the original Sex and Zen films, the incidence of erotic comedies in Asian cinema, and just how he feels about the insistence of the BBFC that certain scenes were removed before it could be shown in the UK. Fair warning though, the interview, particularly the last question goes into detail about the plot of the film. Oh, and it’s pretty safe to say that, unless you’re employed by Hugh Heffner this article is definitely Not Safe For Work.
HeyUGuys: This is actually a remake, isn’t it?
Christopher Sun: The first Sex and Zen [film] was shot twenty years ago, and along the way there were different producers who produced a Sex and Zen sequel. They thought the original Sex and Zen was quite a success in terms of box office, so a lot of people just tried to mimic the thing, but the original producer hasn’t done a sequel until 3D Sex and Zen. So it’s essentially remade some twenty years later with the original producer, Stephen Siu Senior…
[Siu Sr] came up with the idea to reshoot Sex and Zen. [We discussed whether] there were any new angles or ways to do it, and someone in the meeting popped up and said, ‘why don’t we try it with 3D. So from that very moment we started our research to see if there was any possibility we could do Sex and Zen in 3D. It also came up, the idea that we had to rewrite the story, give it a new plot, introduce new characters and just make it different.
HUG: So how different is it from the original?
CS: The original story was there for three hundred years [all the Sex and Zen films have been loosely based on the 17th century novel The Carnal Prayer Mat by Li Yu]. Mr Siu, twenty years ago, rewrote the story. He maintained the story, and tried to squeeze everything and make it tighter – getting rid of the useless parts, and he made Sex and Zen.
For 3D Sex and Zen we figured that we wanted [our audience] to have everything new, so we maintained the leading actor and actress… The monk is in the original novel, and the rest of the book we’ve rewritten the whole thing and introduced new characters. Even the villain, the Prince of Ning, is a new character. He was not in the original novel, and the character was not in the original Sex and Zen, so the storyline itself is a little bit different. There is no revenge in the original novel, so there would be no Prince of Ning. So the Prince of Ning is a totally new invention, and that helped the story to become more dramatised, and let us put in all the laughter, comedy and martial arts.
HUG: Apart from American Pie there hasn’t been a Sex-comedy in this vein since the British Carry On and Emmanuelle films. Is this the same in Hong Kong, or is erotic comedy more prevalent there?
CS: There are some [genres], for instance horror, or violence, that also put in some comic elements. For the erotic movie, normally the comic part won’t play a huge part inside a drama like this. So this is new to most audiences, and to us too.
When we tried to start out we thought that this was a 100% Hong Kong local production. We never thought this would be a big hit around the globe, we never thought this would get so many international releases. To be honest, we just tried to engineer a whole new kind of Category III film [the Hong Kong censor’s classification for ‘pornographic’ material] in Hong Kong, and then eventually, maybe because of the drama, or the comedy or the visuals, it drew a lot of attention from the international press. During the production stage there were already a lot of interview requests from around the globe. CNN, even the French people wanted to come over to the set and see how we were going to do it in 3D. Originally people thought we were going to [focus on] the 3D part, but actually we were just trying to create a romantic drama with a lot of humour, and local, Chinese/Hong Kong movie stuff. We just wanted to make an entertaining movie.
HUG: In the UK there have been some scenes removed to get it past the classification board. How do you feel about that?
CS: It was sad, but it’s an honour for us to have the film released in the UK, and we have to respect the censorship. Even when we release a film in Hong Kong, a scene or two actually gets shortened because of comments from the local censorship board, so we get used to this censorship stuff. We know that we’re pushing things to the limits, so that’s life…
There is a scene where the Prince of Ning accidentally kills his concubine. That scene is meant to be much longer. I tried to show it with one take, but then we got some advice from the censorship board in Hong Kong – because of the realism it had, it makes people uncomfortable to see it in one go, so we had to cut it, and take away a scene or two, so the length of the scene is actually shortened.
There is also particular a shot that we cut out here in Hong Kong, and around the globe too. [During an orgy scene, Wei Yangsheng – the film’s protagonist] gets quite exhausted, doing that stuff to the women. It came to a point where he grabs a woman, and squeezes her titty, and breast milk spreads all over his body. A lot of audiences, and censorship boards found that too offensive, so we cut that shot away.
3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy is out in cinema today.