Scholar Yun-sheng approaches patriarch Iron Plate seeking to marry the old man’s daughter, Yuk Hsiang. Thinking that Yun-sheng is the decent sort, the old man agrees but the sex on the wedding night proves to be a painful experience for the innocent Yuk Hsiang. Undeterred, Yun-sheng shows his wife his family secret – a sex manual – after which the young couple becomes inseparable – they are constantly having sex, not only in their bedroom but in the garden, in the rock pond and on a swing.
Even with a willing and devoted sex partner and wife, Yun-sheng wants more – he wants to bed as many women as he can. On the pretext of going for the imperial exams in the capital, Yun-sheng sets off on his journey of conquest. At a roadside stall, he befriends burglar Choy, who agrees to scout for women for Yun-sheng. But first Choy tells Yun-sheng that if he wants to be a successful lover, he must have the “correct” equipment, otherwise, he might as well stay at home with his wife. To achieve his aim, Yun-sheng gets a transplant for a longer penis.
Choy then introduces Yun-sheng to Mrs. Kuan, who sells cloth with her burly husband. It is lust at first sight and touches for the two. Kuan feels helpless over his wife’s infidelity but before he can do anything, Yun-sheng offers to buy his wife off him.
Despite the great sex with Mrs. Kuan, Yun-sheng also has his eyes on the young wife of an elderly teacher. Seeing the young man, the wife welcomes Yun-sheng’s advances and gladly has sex with him when he breaks into her room.
For Kuan, losing his wife and being paid off is a humiliating experience and he swears revenge on Yun-sheng. He goes to Yun-sheng’s home and gets employed as a gardener. Old Iron Plate is so satisfied with Kuan’s work that he even allows Kuan to marry Yuk Hsiang’s maid. But before the marriage can take place, Kuan and the maid are already having sex and the sounds of their lovemaking drive the sex-starved Yuk Hsiang into a frenzy.
One day, while Yuk Hsiang is taking a bath, Kuan breaks into her room and the two end up having sex in the bath-tub. But their happy days come to an end when Yuk Hsiang tells Kuan that she is pregnant. They decide to run away and, on the road, Yuk Hsiang loses her baby. Kuan then tells her that he has sold her to a brothel.
Later, Yun-sheng visits the brothel but Yuk Hsiang, realizing who her client is, refuses to see him. Forcing his way, Yun-sheng discovers that the brothel’s star attraction is his wife but the despondent Yuk Hsiang soon hangs herself. Realizing his error, Yun-sheng becomes a monk. At the temple is Kuan, who has also become a monk.
If Ho Fan’s Yu Pui Tsuen (aka The Carnal Prayer Mat, 1987) sounds familiar, that’s because, in 1991, Michael Mak remade the film and called it Sex And Zen. In fact, to cash in on Sex And Zen’s success, Yu Pui Tsuen was re-released in 1996 as Sex And Zen – The Virgin Years. Strangely, it has also been listed as Yu Pui Tsuen 2. To add to the confusion, amazon.co.uk shows that Mak’s 1991 movie has also been marketed as Sex And Zen (The Virgin Years).
But Yu Pui Tsuen did not have hot sex star Amy Yip, an “expanded” though a bit jokey section on the horse penis transplant episode, or Isabelle Chow, who is into S&M and has a lesbian fling with her cousin. On the other hand, there is enough nudity and sex to justify its Category III rating.
The film opens phantasmagorically, with its colorful cavern set – like a scene from Mario Bava’s Hercules In The Haunted World – with Yun-sheng wandering among a group of nude women whom he eventually succumbs to, and even “drowns” under. It is pure theatre and a captivating sequence, only to be best by the lovemaking scene between Yun-sheng and Mrs. Kuan, set amidst a sea of trailing silken web and threads.
While these scenes show off director Ho Fan’s visuals, overall, the film is not without its shortcomings, especially when compared to Mak’s Sex And Zen. For a start, soft porn movies are not new for Ho. At Shaw Brothers, he had directed soft porn films such as Adventure In Denmark (1973), The Girl With The Long Hair (1975), Body For Sale (1976) and Innocent Lust (1976). And that’s the problem. Ho had made Yu Pui Tsuen just like a Shaw movie – for the early ’70s! But since the ’70s, Hong Kong sex films had become even more explicit, featured themes such as S&M and homosexuality and even coarser sex jokes. Next to Sex And Zen, Yu Pui Tsuen is fairly tame!
Surprisingly, the print on this KAM DVD is minus an “introductory” section that appears in the accompanying movie trailer. This is what one synopsis of the film notes: “When a young man dreams that he drowns after a night of carnal passion, he asks a Buddhist monk to translate the experience for him. The monk replies that the dream is a warning not to indulge in the pleasures of the flesh to excess, but the man ignores his advice…” The scene of the monk explaining the man’s erotic dream can be seen in the accompanying trailer but it does not carry any English subtitles.
While many of these Hong Kong sex movies, especially the ones from Shaw Brothers, have a moralistic message, they also kind of remind one of the stories of the thief who stole Heaven. As he hung dying on the cross next to Jesus, a thief asked for forgiveness and gets a place in Heaven. It may be a neat summation to a life of crime but for the characters in Yu Pui Tsuen (and many such movies) who wantonly destroy innocent lives in the pursuit of sex, meditating like a monk for the rest of one’s life seems an easy way out. And that’s so prevalent in Asian movies.
And for those who follow Hong Kong movies, it’s just ironical that filmmaker Ho Fan, who acted as the chaste monk, Tripitaka, in Shaw’s Journey To The West movies, should find a second career making soft porn movies; or that Sun Chien – one of Chang Cheh’s famous Five Venoms and star of numerous Shaw’s action movies – would count the soft-porn Yu Pui Tsuen as part of his filmography.