Yu Pui Tsuen II (1987)

Directed by: Ho Fan
Written by: Manfred Wong
Producer: Wong Kiu-Lap
Starring: Dennis Tang, Cheng Yuen-Man, Chou Ying-Ti, Eliza Yue, Sun Chien & Rico Chu

Insanely well shot and creative smut by Ho Fan, in fact he clinches that often NOT utilized goal of bringing a little class to the period softcore porn movie. Despite the film wandering between straight faced insanity and tragedy, it sells its intentions well. Basically the story of an asshole, Mei Yeung-Sun (Dennis Tang) looks to become a Buddhist but isn't willing to give up worldly pleasures and embrace monogamy. So he leaves his bride Yuk-Xiang (Cheng Yuen-Man) behind to pursue sexual exploits elsewhere. Arriving at a town where the women have demands that he can't currently physically match, a little surgery will take care of that. All while Yuk-Xiang long for someone to hold. But after Mei Yeung-Sun takes away the wife of woodcutter Kuan (Sun Chien), he plans revenge by going to Mei Yeung-Sun's territory and claiming his woman...

Based on 17th century erotic novel The Carnal Prayer Mat, it was published in 1693 under the pseudonym Li Yu. However in the wake of its release and notoriety there were conflicting opinions whether the author actually did pen the novel. Scholars concluded it does FEEL like Li Yu’s brand of fiction but there’s no way to tell for sure the connection between book and author is actually 100% correct. Stirring up controversy for its pornographic content and its supposed allegory and attacks on Confucian puritanism, it's also dealing with themes of karma and the lasting damages of improper sexual relationships where a painful and tragic awakening is needed. A preface to the book actually frames sex and sexuality as healthy but when taken as a drug, not consumed as naturally and ordinarily like an everyday meal is when you run into trouble. Essentially too much of a good thing is damaging and there is a healthy balance to be found in sexuality. Most famously 1991’s Sex And Zen provided a purely comedic take on the material and Ho Fan’s movie saw new life in the 90s when re-released as just Yu Pui Tsuen in 1996 and the same year a wonderfully zany third entry followed (not directed by Ho Fan), parodying Stephen Chow's Forbidden City Cop and featuring Elvis Tsui at his comedic best.

As much of a psychological journey into a mind that sees decadence and sexuality in a shallow way, that flesh but not faces and souls is to be sought after as it is the expected Category III movie looking at the adult content on the surface, in an era where not many makers could mimic Ho Fan’s skills it’s refreshing to see such a technical exercise in the adult film context. Despite what seems like a small budget, sets are still lush and the cinematography celebrates atmospheric triumphs. Smoke and snow are Ho Fan's finest deck of cards specifically and he plays with garish colors right out of the Mario Bava playbook early on as the dream imagery Dennis Tang’s Mei Yeung-Sun finds himself in both delights him but scares him. His own shallow subconscious that is where he’s also convinced himself he is desirable and certainly does not see that decadence is sin that will consume him. Using stock footage at points to establish locations and therefore working on sets mostly, Ho Fan still has an elite team present to realize the majestic splendor of not only costumes but settings such as the the courtyard where Mei Yeung-Sun and his bride Yuk-Xiang explore the joys of sex but also the joys of actually having fun and laughing together. He is clearly a male that favors the hunt though so it’s all smoke and mirrors that desire to explore the world and educate himself and it’s surprisingly heartfelt to see Yuk-Xiang's reaction in particular as they part. Covering many of the same beats that Sex And Zen did but with a straight face is a fascinating viewing experience too and Yu Pui Tsuen II confidently gets you into the mindset of examining the downwards spiral of the characters on display. Never once forgetting any interior and exterior can and should be bathed in color, gels, calculated highlights, even as the penis operation does take place (where Mei Yeung-Sun gets a raccoon’s penis transplanted off screen, which would seem like a downgrade), Ho Fan is quick to move on and at most treats certain sections as somewhat playful. Not wacky.

The change of weather as sins are piled up into cold and snowy may seem on the nose symbolism, the downturn for many involved but it’s simply gorgeous technical direction, world immersion and that of course includes the erotica on display. Absorb that for a moment, Ho Fan was a director that cared about his images inside and outside of the sex scenes. As one of the playful sections takes place involving Mei Yeung-Sun mistakenly having intercourse with an uglier woman before getting to his object of desire, Ho Fan then stages a sex scene amidst tons of thread that is hypnotic art at its best and in particular during the still images once the scene concludes. It’s pleasure leading to corruption though, women can be bought as property but Mei Yeung-Sun is a character who feels invincible and doesn’t even have an eye for the tragic ripples ahead.

We get the most affecting sections of the movie during the last third where revenge means there will be those caught in the crossfire and the resulting melodrama is genuinely well played. All of this is examined effectively in a little over 90 minutes with Ho Fan proving there is value visually and thematically even when using the Category III rating. Concluding similarly as Sex And Zen, it’s a minor miracle both are channelling the core elements of the novel and achieve their desired results respectively. In Sex And Zen's case, it’s hysterical. In Yu Pui Tsuen II it’s devastating and more classy than most Category III erotica that would dominate Hong Kong screens in the 90s.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson