Laughing aloud, producer Stephen Shiu Yeuk-Yuen described the experience of watching his latest project, the 3-D porn movie 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy onscreen: "It is just like [being a] voyeur near someone's bed."
The 61-year-old head of One Dollar Production is well known for his unconventional style. Shiu is proud of the IMAX erotic costume drama, which opened mid-April in Hong Kong, Taiwan, New Zealand and Australia. The film earned HK $2,790,000 (US $351,000) during its opening night in Hong Kong, beating the record previously set by Avatar in 2009. According to Business Week, the film has since earned US $4 million in the Hong Kong box office, US $1.75 million in Taiwan, and US $870,000 in Australia.
3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy is the world's first 3-D soft-core porn movie. After a vigorous promotional campaign, it has become one of Hong Kong's hottest attractions. Although banned in mainland China, it has nonetheless become one of the most popular topics on Weibo, the widely-used Chinese micro-blogging website. The film, starring Japanese porn stars Hara Saori and Suo Yukiko and Hong Kong actress Vonnie Liu, is a bold sex comedy about a lustful scholar's mis-adventures, based on the ancient erotic Chinese novel, The Prayer Mat of Flesh. With its combination of 3-D and pornography, 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy has sparked intense interest and debate.
Shiu, whose previous 1991 version of Sex and Zen was dubbed into 15 languages and is considered to be one of the most successful of Hong Kong's porn films, decided to remake the movie in 3-D after seeing the worldwide success of Avatar.
3-D technique has previously been used in action and science fiction films, because of the way it makes the audiences feel closer to what is on the screen. The decision to film an erotic story in 3-D required extra efforts and a larger financial investment.
"Making a 3-D movie is much more troublesome than a 2-D one," said Shiu. "For master copies alone, we have to make four different versions to cater different facilities owned by different cinemas."
Shiu boasts that the 3-D techniques used in 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy are among the most sophisticated ever seen, requiring a total investment of HK $20-30 million (US $2.5-4 million). However, because Shiu was willing to risk using new and unknown actors, the cost for on-screen talent was only HK$ 2 million (US $257,000).
"No one was willing to invest at first," said Shiu. "However, I am confident that the box office will be a success."
Still from 1991's Sex and Zen
To address the concerns of women embarrassed or uncomfortable about watching pornography, two ladies-only showings were arranged. Due to the overwhelming demand, many such showings are planned.
"It's beyond a porn movie," said Shiu. "It [also] has the Hong Kong movies' label, which is a perfect mixture of various distinct emotions; you will have the experience of laughing, crying, feeling horrified and touched when watching it."
Because Chinese mainlanders are thought to have played a large part in the box-office success in Hong Kong of the uncensored version of Ang Lee's sexually explicit Lust, Caution, which earned more than HK $48 million (US $6.2 million) in 2007, One Dollar Production worked with tourism companies by offering ticket discounts for mainland tourists.
Despite all the attention and the big crowds, not everyone has been impressed.
In terms of its sex scenes -- the main appeal for many audience members -- some felt that the 3-D does not really offer an unique viewing experience. When polling viewers about the film, some of the comments included: "I did not feel much difference for the sex part of the movie [although the] action shots are cool with the help of 3-D technique" and "I feel disgusted to see bodies being chopped and blood splashing on my face; I can hardly believe it is claimed to be a porn movie."
Comments have also been voiced on the internet, with one website in mainland China complaining that the erotic movie is full of action shots and comedy effects but not enough hot sex scenes. Some critics have dismissed the whole effort as just a way to lure audiences.
"It's just a marketing gimmick; I don't see any difference for 3-D or non-3-D porn movie." Matthew Tang, a well-known movie producer at the Hong Kong production company Edko Films.
Nevertheless, cinemas are crowded with curious audiences, as all the controversy has only sparked more public interest.
"If possible, I am thinking about the third version, a 4-D one," said Shiu laughing. "Adding the visual reality will be another innovation to pornography movies."
The film will open in Korea on May 12, and France, India, and Italy in June. For more information, go to 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy's official website.
Echo Guo, Shadow Li and Summer Qin are students in the Journalism Program at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.