Love's Whirlpool, a Japanese film now playing on local screens, uses a swingers' club to explore the modern conundrum of fulfilling the human need to connect even as people seem increasingly unable to communicate with one another. Adapted for the screen by Daisuke Miura and based on his 2005 play of the same name, it follows the events at a sex party where eight strangers overcome inhibitions and inevitable awkwardness for a night of doubtful couplings.
The film's party organisers have a real-life Hong Kong counterpart in Chris, a nattily turned out local man in his early 40s whose day job gives him the flexibility to run the sex club that he founded in 2007. He initially organised a few parties for fun, but then decided he could help people learn more about sex.
But while they share similarities with the movie in terms of sexual activities and some rules (participants must use protection and respect the women's wishes), Chris says many of the male characters in the movie would not have been accepted into his Swing and Bang Club, which now claims more than 3,000 members.
"We don't get sex-crazed or perverted people," he says.
The club aims to give a safe and discrete environment for people to act out their sexual fantasies, Chris says, so applicants are vetted and must agree to its rules and submit results of a recent blood test along with photos and a form detailing their sexual experience.
He began asking for blood tests in 2009, first to check for hepatitis B, then HIV/Aids and eventually for all sexually transmitted diseases. Now members are required to be tested every six months and send in the results before they may join the next party.
Chris knows of four other sex party groups in Hong Kong, but believes his club is the only one that demands blood tests. "There's one group that gets blood tests, but only from the men. Isn't that strange?" he asks.
His members, he says, are ordinary looking people, with women aged 18 to 50 and men 22 to 49. "The meetings are meant to create a culture that's inclusive," Chris says. "As long as the person has a good personality, we will accept them.
"It's harder to find decent men, though. Some may have good looks, but they can be mean or have inflated egos."
The Swing and Bang Club organises parties almost every week, attracting between eight and 20 participants each time. Date and themes, such as cosplay or bondage, are set well in advance, but the place and time are revealed just a few hours before the event. Venues range from private residences to adjoining hotel rooms and serviced apartments.
As the emcee, Chris encourages everyone to take part in some activity - anything from dancing, a game of truth or dare or even chess - to break the ice before retiring to a room with a partner or partners.
Many of the men, particularly new members, are eager to show off their sexual prowess, but are quickly humbled by the realisation they may not be the Don Juans they imagine themselves to be.
Peter (not his real name) was one such person. A managerial executive in his 30s, he joined the club four years ago and soon discovered that there was a lot he did not know about giving and receiving sexual pleasure.
"The girl I was with taught me how to kiss, and then I realised how soft a kiss could be and how there were many levels of kissing. When it comes to sex I have learned a lot ... about how to stimulate the woman," he says. "I'm still learning up to now ... I've also learned that women really do enjoy sex."
Chris has actually wound up giving tips on bedroom techniques during the events. "As soon as they learn it, they can use it," he says, laughing. "Where are they are going to learn about sex? They aren't going to learn about it in school or at home."
When the club first started, he didn't participate in the activities, but later began to help engage the women in foreplay before backing away for the other men to follow through.
The participants all don colour-coded bracelets to signal their inclinations: green indicates the wearer only seeks one-to-one interaction, for example, and women wearing orange bangles are ready to be touched and kissed but do not want coitus.
Some men see the orange bracelet as a challenge and try and get the woman to take it off, but Chris emphasises that everyone must recognise that "no" means just that.
Members pay fees for events ranging from about HK$300 to HK$400 for men and HK$100 to HK$200 for women to cover operating costs; Chris insists on payment from women to discourage those who might make use of his club to seek clients for so-called compensated dating.
Obviously, this kind of activity faces all kinds of legal issues. David Boyton, a barrister and former chief inspector of police, says if organisers charge participants to attend sex parties, they may be regarded as living off the earnings of sexual services and could be charged with lewd conduct.
"If no money changes hands, then it is not illegal, but they are going to premises for sex services, so there is a profit aspect," he says. "Hong Kong laws are based in Victorian morality."
Chris has already had a run-in with the law but says he's not worried. In 2008, he was charged with distributing obscene material after police were tipped off about sexually explicit photos that he posted on the club website. He admitted fault and has since restricted access to the photos to club members.
"The police know what I am doing. We are not doing drugs, everyone is of legal age and we are having consensual sex," Chris says.
"I make sure the female members are not prostitutes, and the money I charge is used to pay for rental of rooms, buying refreshments, condoms and sex toys. I'm doing something healthy. I want people in Hong Kong to have more clubs like this so I can take a break and have some fun, too."
A police spokesman says there is no definition of a sex party under Hong Kong law. Whether such activity is deemed unlawful will depend on the way it is conducted.
Organisers may be liable for charges if they are deemed to be "causing prostitution", "living on earnings of prostitution of others" or "permitting premises or vessel to be used for prostitution" under the Crimes Ordinance, the spokesman says. They may also face charges for outraging public decency under common law.
In Chris' view, casual sex and love don't go together, so he has instituted a ban on couples in the club. "I have had couples who have met at my sex parties and think they are good together. I talk about it with them seriously because if they want to have a relationship, then I have to ban them from the club. That's because if it doesn't work out, which it invariably doesn't, I don't want them coming back to find another person."
However, Chan Lo, a registered social worker and family counsellor, says it's impossible for people not to form an emotional attachment when they share such physical intimacy. In exploring each other's bodies, there is an emotional connection.
"It's hard to just have sex. It would be challenging to stay within the boundaries of not being emotionally attached."
Peter, who has had a steady girlfriend for more than 10 years, seems to think he can remain detached throughout his partying. "I am cheating on her, but I'm not playing with her emotions. These parties haven't affected our relationship, but sex-wise it's much better. She asked how I knew all these [techniques]; I told her I did some research online ... I know it's a risk, but I don't want to jeopardise my relationship."
Interviewed over the phone at a party where sounds of sexual activity can be heard in background, Peter says he hasn't told any of his friends about his X-rated hobby.
"I'm not afraid of what they will think of me, but more that perhaps they will be jealous of me," he says.
In fact, Peter advocates sex parties as a good way to relieve stress. "It's like exercising: you get a good workout, and afterwards you feel tired and sweaty. Sex is a primal human need."
While the club has held most events in various premises in Kowloon, members have rented villas abroad for special outings, and last year went on a jaunt in a rented tour bus to mark the club's sixth anniversary.
"Can you imagine having sex in a bus trundling through streets you normally walk along? It was quite an experience," Peter says. "I've had many fantasies fulfilled, like threesomes, group sex - even ones I had never thought of."
At 19 years of age, Kitty is one of the youngest members. The student inadvertently discovered the club website four years ago, but had to wait until she was 18 to join because it strictly enforced its rule on only admitting people of age.
"I had some sexual experience, but wanted to learn and see other things in a safe environment," says Kitty, who values the group's openness. "If you want to improve, you can ask your partner and you won't lose face."
But for all their emphasis on safety and consensual acts, these clubs have plenty of detractors. Tik Chi-yuen, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Family Education, says activities such as parties debase the value and meaning of sex.
"Mainstream society, whether it's more liberal Western or conservative Chinese, supports monogamy and loyalty to partners," Tik says. "Sex is nothing like playing sport and having a coffee with friends. You can hardly argue that sex is a form of casual social activity - it is combined with love and emotional interaction. There are many forms of stress relief besides sex."
Additional reporting by Elaine YauTopics: LIFE