China and Sex
Director - Joe D’Amato
Cast - Marc Gosalvez, Lora Luna
Country of Origin - Italy
Discs - 1
MSRP - $24.95
Distributor - Mya Communications
Reviewer - Bobby Morgan
The Film: 3/5
Pen Zhin (Marc Gosalvez) is a rich and powerful Mandarin lord who commands great respect and can have whatever his heart desires, and what he desires is Tama (Nongkok Kok), a dancer and concubine who promises the greatest erotic pleasures to the mind and body for whoever she chooses to take to her bed chamber. Pen is willing to pay any price to have Tama all for himself but the price for winning her love goes far beyond anything financial. Pen must go through a series of tests and emotional tortures in order to prove to Tama that he is worthy of receiving her sensual gifts. But is the pain he will endure worth Tama’s passionate delights, and is there something else waiting for him when his trials are complete?
China and Sex (Cina e Sesso) is a rarity in cinema more fleeting than a Hailey‘s Comet flyby: a Joe D’Amato erotic film that is actually sexy and steamy most of the time. Never count out the Italians when it comes to exploiting a popular international film trend. When D’Amato decided to make China and Sex as his response to the Italian success of the Asian cult erotic feature Sex & Zen such was his dedication to make the movie look like an authentic Chinese film that he hired an all-Asian cast and took the directorial pseudonym Robert Yip. Of course that doesn’t stop the late exploitation journeyman from directing China and Sex like any other of his sleazy celebrations of unbridled titillation. What sets this movie apart from other D’Amato efforts like Porno Holocaust and Emmanuelle Around the World is that it’s softcore erotica and just as concerned with the romantic side of a relationship as it is with the inevitable hot sex, and China and Sex has more than a few choice sex scenes. Some of them are too chaste but it’s refreshing that D’Amato cast the movie with actors who are actually attractive and look convincing in their love scenes.
The romantic aspects of the film really work despite D’Amato saddling his actors with dialogue dripping with impenetrable metaphors and fortune cookie philosophy. I don’t know if the production was actually filmed in or around China or on an Italian soundstage but the sets and occasionally-underlit location cinematography look very authentic and sumptuous, achieving a very lived-in feel to them, although the shoddy DVD transfer crops the scenic beauty into a crappy box. But D’Amato isn’t making an art film here. This man knew his audience and he is fully prepared to give them what they want. The camera never tires of ogling the bounty of beautiful bare female flesh on display and D’Amato peppers the narrative with some of his trademark shocks, such as one of Madame Shu’s tea house girls adding a little extra flavor to a customer’s meal by dipping it in her hoo-hah. The music score by Piero Montanari is appropriately exotic and lush.
But this is a Joe D’Amato so it’s going to have major flaws. On a filmmaking level China and Sex is one of the director’s finest works but the central relationship barely holds water. Although Pen Zhin is a well-developed character, an arrogant and powerful young man humbled by what he perceives to be the power of love, the object of his affection is another story. Nongkok Kok is a beautiful actress whose sensuality bleeds off the screen but her character is completely devoid of anything resembling a personality. She’s more of a compilation of traits guys seen in unattainable women and you get never get the sense that she’s interested in Pen either sexually or romantically. Mostly she comes off as a sadist who gets her jollies fucking with the poor guy’s heart and gonads. When Pen is forced to journey into the torture garden to win the heart of Tama we’re set up for depraved delights as only Joe D’Amato could deliver but what Pen is subjected to is rather tame compared to what our imaginations had already prepared. We get a few nice boy-girl couplings, two chaste lesbian romps, and that’s pretty much it. During the early stages of Pen’s obsession he fantasizes making love to Tama several times and those scenes feel like a cheat because he has not won Tama’s love and a lifetime key to her passion fruit and D’Amato is merely trying to have his cake and eat it too. The purpose of the torture garden reminded me of Frank’s hell from Hellbound: Hellraiser II, to have all the pleasures of the flesh presented to you but you are forbidden to do nothing but watch as others enjoy themselves. In the end China and Sex feels less of a sordid exploitation flick and more of a O. Henry-style tale with more boobs and a killer twist that will have male viewers rubbing their groins for a while afterward, and not in a good way.
The film is presented in a muddy 1:33.1 full frame picture with a passable Italian mono soundtrack. One of the best things about watching China and Sex is the sheer novelty of watching D’Amato’s Asian cast speaking in dubbed Italian. English subtitles are provided.
The only extra is a full frame theatrical trailer.
China and Sex was a pleasant surprise, a Joe D’Amato sex extravaganza flick that is legitimately erotic and treats the desires that often drive us to foolish pursuits as nothing to be ashamed of. Though heavily flawed it’s worth a look for those who think the late director didn’t have a good movie in it every so often.