Chinese comedy 'Red Light Revolution', is a light hearted look at the bumbling attempts of Shunzi, and his foray into running an adult shop in his Beijing neighbourhood. The film highlights the clash between the old communist and the new capitalist China, where nothing is off limits in the quest to make money.
Brilliantly cast as the luckless loser, Shunzi is a cab driver who's just been given the sack. His wife kicks him out and he is forced to move back in with his parents. He manages to find a new job, along with a hilarious uniform, and a chance meeting with an old school friend propels him into setting up a sex toy shop. Although China produces 70% of the worlds sex toys, and Beijing alone has over 2,000 adult shops, it is still very much a taboo subject. Writer and director, Sam Voutas, was inspired to make the film after seeing the change in Beijing neighbourhoods over the years, as more and more adult shops opened. He is quoted as saying the film is a 'comedy about the contradictions in modern concepts of morality'.
Shunzi's parents are horrified by their sons plans, and warn him 'Don't tell the relatives!' With all the thousands of people working in this industry it's still an untouchable subject. In fact, although the film has done well in festivals around the world, it has not been released in China yet. This seems crazy - if it was Japanese or Korean, it would already be a box office hit. China is still very much made up of 'Government approved' films though, and this one is not approved.
In fact its not really even a completely Chinese film. Sam Voutas is a Greek Australian, who due to his diplomat father lived in many Asian cities throughout his childhood. He speaks fluent Mandarin and has been based in Beijing for many years, working as an actor,writer and director. This is his second film, after the 2004 sci-fi thriller 'Crash Test', which he also wrote and starred in. Voutas makes an appearance in 'Red Light Revolution' as Jack Deroux. I love the choice of a completely unpronounceable surname for the Chinese to try to tackle. His comedic Aussie accent is straight out of Kath & Kim, but he is believable in the role of an adult industry entrepreneur.
Much of the charm of this film lies in the odd-bod selection of actors, many who are first timers to the big screen. A selection of kooky locals become Shunzi's regular customers. Jun Zhao, who plays Shunzi, is great in the role of the chubby big mouth fool. The wonderfully named Vivid Wang stars as Lili, Shunzi's partner in the shop. Interestingly, she did not even want to tell her parents what the film is about, and was quoted as saying, 'I doubt they would accept it calmly so its better I don't tell. Oh god I am so sad!' Let's hope they didn't go to the premiere.
Nice to see the 'Hutong' location used for the film. A highlight from a trip I did to Beijing a few years ago, the 'Hutong' area is the old fashioned grey walled neighbourhood that has retained its charm, unlike most of Beijing, and China in general which is becoming full of ugly, crowded modern cities, with ever present tacky neon lights (not in a cool Japanese way, more like £1 shop style).
Red Light Revolution will have its UK release to coincide with Chinese New Year on the 23rd of January. Set to be screened at the ICA in London and selected regional sites, I hope it gets the large audience it deserves – plenty of laugh out loud moments make this an enjoyable film.