(trailer here), currently playing in mainstream New York theaters.
Based on Li Yu’s novel The Carnal Prayer Mat, something of the Ming Dynasty equivalent of Fanny Hill, S&Z tells the story of the talented but shallow scholar Wei Yangsheng, who chunks away his respectable married life to partake in the hedonism of the nefarious Prince Ning’s secret vice lair. In return for his expertise with antiquities, the Prince allows him nearly free reign with the women. Unfortunately, his shortcomings, if you will, lead to considerable embarrassment for the faithless scholar. Not one to take things laying down, Wei Yangsheng approaches the outwardly beautifully (but androgynous where it counts) Elder of Bliss to teach him the cosmic secrets of carnal pleasure. The first step: a transplant, in 3D. You’ve been warned.
Of course, everyone is probably wondering the same thing about S&Z: just how much Zen does it really have? In truth, only a bit. The scholar’s old teacher is a Buddhist monk, whose piety draws the ire of Prince Ning. There is a lot of sex though.
Frankly, it is quite significant how many of the female roles had to be played by Japanese actresses. However, the stunning Saori Hara and Yukiko Suo are obviously well suited to play Ruizhu and Dongmei, the pleasure palace’s top seductresses. Yet, Vonnie Lui might be the most striking femme fatale (for lack of a better term) as the Elder. In contrast, Hiro Hayama’s Wei Yangsheng is too schmucky to be much of an emotional rooting interest.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of S&Z is the quality of the 3D. Unlike many Hollywood fixer-uppers, the 3D effects seem well integrated into the film as a whole, especially the elegant opening credit sequence evoking traditional Chinese landscape painting. Mercifully, there are not a lot of scenes of pointy things sticking out at the audience either, besides the flying daggers seen during the action sequences.
China Lion, the leading international distributor of popular Chinese cinema. Recommended more for informed patrons looking to enjoy some on-screen naughtiness than those looking for some 3D for its own sake, it is currently playing at the Village East in New York and the South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas.