Strap on your 3D glasses because it’s time to check out Hong Kong’s answer to the three dimension immersion experience: 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy. This retelling of a classic Chinese erotica tale has proven itself to be a huge hit with cinemagoers worldwide. So far, it’s broken box office records in Australia and New Zealand and toppled the likes of Avatar and Titanic during its Hong Kong debut. The Guardian has even touted it as the potential saviour of 3D cinema. No small feat. With the movie hitting UK cinemas today, we caught up with its director, newcomer Christopher Sun to discuss the gestation of the project, butting heads with the censors and how he thinks the UK will react to what’s basically an arousing Asian Avatar…
So what originally drew you to 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy?
When we started off the producer had a bunch of old scripts, some of the Zen titles had been produced some time ago, and we looked at the old scripts to see if there was any possibility to remake the whole thing. And then we came up with the idea of why don’t we do the research and see if we can make Sex and Zen, the older title, in 3D with a new story and new technology, so that’s how we started.
The movie has been pretty popular at the box office; did this come as a surprise?
Yes, actually we were quite surprised because when we were trying to engineer the project we never thought that it would be a hit around the globe. Of course, nowadays people are getting so use to internet porno or even soft porno on the internet, I don’t see any reason why people have to go into the theatre to experience these king of things, but after many conversations with audiences, even though the internet porn is very popular, they said it’s just a completely different experience to see this porno drama in 3D in the theatre and to get all this laughter and all this action. Sometimes it looks silly, you know, very laughable and people just like the sensation of going into the cinema to watch it, so maybe that’s the reason why people try to get into the theatre to have a look at our film, they want to be entertained! I think that’s the whole reason and it’s totally out of the blue compared to our original calculation, so I was quite surprised!
How did the element of 3D effect story telling?
Well 3D is actually quite a new medium to us too, although the producer has produced over 30 titles back in Hong Kong but this was a whole new thing for us. So when we were thinking about the story we had to make sure all the jokes and the storytelling can adapt to the 3D visual. So lets take for instance…we have a lot of martial arts scenes in the movie and we have to work with the choreographer to stage a different look for the entire thing because normally on this kind of movie it’s kind of under-lit but for our production we actually have to over-light the whole scene to make things as bright as possible. And this kind of treatment actually contradicts what the overall sensation is in the original so we have to engineer differences in lighting and give it a alluring look which never happened before in Hong Kong cinema, it’s a whole new thing. And as for the sex scenes, actually it’s kind of hard because normally when people try to shoot romantic scenes there should be multiple cameras but because we don’t do any 3D we didn’t have the privilege to add multi-cameras to the scenes. It’s a very experimental process.
This seems like quite a challenge, was it something you embraced?
To engineer the script itself is the biggest challenge because of the pace. When you look back now and see the end product it’s a very fast paced movie, it was based on the 80’s Hong Kong movies just like the Jackie Chan stuff. We tried to put as much of a 3D element in as possible so when people saw the 3D they won’t just see it used for naked people, they’ll see it in a lot of drama, a lot of plot and in a lot of action and martial arts. To engineer the story line wasn’t too hard but finding the right casting was actually very difficult for us. It took us thirteen months to put the cast together. We went to Shanghai, we went to Beijing, here in Hong Kong, Tai Wan, Malaysia, we even when to different Asian countries like Japan to do the casting bit by bit and eventually came up with the all star cast we have now.
The tradition we have in Hong Kong is that if you have a story and tell people we are going to shoot it there will be a lot of actors and extras that will show up for the casting but the film that we were doing had to deal with a lot of naked scenes, so people tend to be a little concerned of it. So even though they read our script and thought our script was brilliant they eventually turned us down. So we have to push back the production and do the casting again, so it’s very pain staking stuff.
Did you experience any trouble with censorship? I hear in the UK two minutes has been cut out by the BBFC…
Right, honestly speaking there is a scene when the Prince of Ning, the villain character played by Tony Ho, they kill his concubine and that scene…well from the censorship note we have from the authority it says it’s too violent and they adviced us to cut away a few shots. This means the majority who have seen the uncut version say it shows too much and goes over the limit so they just required me to take that off. There is another shot where Wei Yangsheng has an orgy after his penis transplant. He has sex with a lot of ladies and gets exhausted, the whole thing is too hot for him, so he picks up a lady who is laying next to him who is lactating and squeezes her titty and then has the milk squirt all over his body and that particular shot got cut away. It won’t be seen by any audiences anywhere around the globe. According to the censors when we run it past the female audiences they just find it too offensive. That one shot is not included in the movie in any version; I don’t think it will get past any censorship
Which country do you think has been the most receptive to the movie so far?
I’d say Tai Wan and in Thailand
How do you think the UK will react to it?
Actually I was educated in the UK. I think that audiences in the UK will like the film because of the humour it has and, how should I say, the stupidity!
The Guardian has said it could be the savoir of 3D cinema, would you agree?
Well I’ll leave that to the audience to be honest, it’s not for me to say. Obviously people will go into the cinema out of curiosity but we tried to shoot as sexy as we could, we tried to do the art direction as serious as we could, we had to do the cinematography in a different way the tonality is totally different from traditional Hong Kong movies. We tried to reinvent the body language of Chinese and Hong Kong cinema. So, you know, the little touches make our film different and maybe that’s the reason why it’s been so successful in so many different countries, people can tell the difference.
3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy is now showing at Odeon Printworks Manchester. Click here to check times and book tickets.
Words and interview by Simon Bland.