HONG KONG -- A pioneering 3-D erotic comedy has taken the Hong Kong box office by storm, beating the first-day record set by "Avatar" and drawing viewers from mainland China as it eyes a global rollout.
The $3.5 million Cantonese-language production "3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy" had earned 17 million Hong Kong dollars ($2.2 million) as of Tuesday since opening last week on 73 screens, according to figures provided by producer Stephen Shiu. That's nearly seven times the total take so far for Hollywood thriller "Scream 4," which has earned HK$2.5 million ($320,000).
"Sex and Zen" – a remake of a 1991 Hong Kong movie by the same name – features full nudity and camouflaged lovemaking scenes but does not show actual sexual intercourse, as is common in pornographic films. The movie, which stars Japanese porn stars Hara Saori and Suo Yukiko and Hong Kong actress Vonnie Liu, tells the story of a sexually frustrated scholar in ancient China who loses himself in the harem of a duke he befriends.
The film brought in HK$2.78 million ($360,000) on its opening day last Thursday, eclipsing the previous first-day record set by James Cameron's 2009 3-D sci-fi epic "Avatar," which earned HK$2.63 million ($340,000) on its first day.
In Taiwan, where the movie opened Friday on 77 screens, it earned 17 million New Taiwan Dollars ($590,000) through Sunday. That figure is still inferior to Hollywood competition but marks the best opening weekend for a Chinese-language movie in Taiwan this year, Shiu said Wednesday.
Shiu, whose father Stephen Shiu Sr. served as executive producer on the original "Sex and Zen," said he believes he has capitalized on a huge desire for 3-D erotic movies.
"We met people's expectations. People have always thought that you need 3-D technology for this kind of content. So people were very curious," he said.
"Sex and Zen" bills itself as the world's first 3-D erotic film, although Shiu acknowledges that a South Korean production – last year's "Natali" – hit the market before his release did. However, Shiu's movie is still a pioneering attempt at using new 3-D technology in theatrical releases of erotic films, given that the market in the West is now largely dominated by DVD releases.
The movie's Hong Kong performance has also been boosted by an influx of mainland Chinese viewers, whom Shiu estimates accounted for up to half of the business at some theaters. Although former British colony Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it still maintains a separate political system – and film regulatory regime. While Hong Kong has a film ratings system, mainland China doesn't, which effectively rules out erotic content.
"Sex and Zen" received a restricted rating in Hong Kong, allowing only audiences aged 18 and older to see the film.
It's not the first time mainland viewers have traveled to Hong Kong to evade censorship by Chinese authorities. Many mainlanders crossed over to watch the uncut version of Oscar-winning Taiwanese director Ang Lee's sexually explicit 2007 spy thriller "Lust, Caution."
Hong Kong theater operators have also sought to cash in on the novelty factor by staging women-only screenings.
"Sex and Zen" has also been released in about a dozen theaters in Chinese communities in the Australian cities Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, but Shiu didn't have box office results. The movie is scheduled to be released in South Korea on May 12, and in France, Italy and India in June. Shiu is also targeting a May release for Singapore, although the filmmakers are still working with local censors on the final cut.