Otis plays Emily, a young woman who has travelled to New York City for an interview with an international law firm. She is immediately hired and her first assignment is to fly to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with one of the company's top executives, Claudia (Bisset), to help with the purchase and development of a dilapidated beach hotel.
But when Claudia is forced to fly to Argentina for business reasons Emily is left behind to oversee that the deal goes smoothly. She is also introduced to Claudia's enigmatic friend Wheeler (Rourke), a reclusive millionaire. Emily is intrigued by Wheeler and is drawn to him, but Wheeler is more interested in subjecting Emily to a series of psychological and sexual tests, with the apparent intention of breaking down her inhibitions and allowing her to live life more freely.
But he also continually distances himself from her, his emotions not allowing him to express his true feelings. Eventually she breaks through the barriers that he has constructed for himself over the years and he lets himself love her.
The scene became a cause celebre in the media, with the Siskel & Ebert review program devoting part of one installment to film critic Roger Ebert discussing the censored scene with King (Ebert is shown watching the footage, but it was not broadcast). The footage itself had been filmed in such a way that penetration (if any) was not visible; even in one overhead shot showing realistic sexual movement, Rourke's genitals are completely in shadow, making it impossible to confirm or deny based upon available photographic evidence. In his examination of the situation, Ebert used Wild Orchid as evidence that the MPAA needed to create a new rating for films made for adults that were not aimed at the pornography market to which the X-rating had been associated; not long after the film's release, the MPAA abandoned X and introduced the NC-17 rating, which was intended for this purpose (see Henry & June).
When Wild Orchid was released to the home video and cable markets the next year, King assembled an unrated "director's cut" which contained the footage he had been forced to trim. The theatrical release ran at 105 minutes; the video version runs 111 minutes and most notably includes the more explicit version of the debated love scene which is almost completely made up of different footage than what was used in the R-rated theatrical version. This was one of the first occasions in which a film that had been edited for sexual explicitness was later issued in unexpurgated form on home video, a practice that is now standard. (The Region 1 DVD release includes both R- and Unrated versions of the film.)
Rourke and Otis married in 1992 and divorced in 1998. They also starred together in the 1996 direct-to-video film Exit in Red.
Wild Orchid was a box office success but a critical flop; nonetheless it was popular enough to spawn a loose sequel a few years later entitled Wild Orchid 2: Two Shades of Blue. Unlike its predecessor, the film was released directly to the cable/home video market in the United States, though it did enjoy theatrical release in some countries; like the previous film, however, two versions of the movie were released, one of which was an unrated version with more sexual explicitness.