Film review - Red Light Revolution
A light hearted comedy about the taboos and conservatism around sex in China
Red Light Revolution follows Shinzu (Zhao Jun), a down on his luck 30 something Beijinger. Having lost his job as a taxi driver, then discovering his wife cheating on him with a self-claimed thespian and because of that, having to move back into the family home, where his parents seem to enjoy each others’ company a bit more than Shinzu can deal with at this time. It’s fair to say, life isn’t going his way. However, a chance encounter with an old school friend is the silver lining he’s been looking for.
The theme of the story plays on China’s prudish and conservative attitude towards sex and social hierarchy values. Even when Shinzu meets Mr. Iggy, a Japanese gangster, who offers him a chance to get out of his rut through a high pressured pyramid scheme selling sex toys, Shinzu is reluctant, because it would be bring shame on the family; it’s seen as job for lowlifes, which despite his predicament, he still turn his nose up.
However, it’s not long before he is otherwise persuaded and almost forced to accept the offer, because of his circumstances, knowing it will mean broken kneecaps if payments aren’t met, and shame for his parents.
Sex in Chinese cinema is a tricky subject with many films having to go through lengthy processes before given the green light and even then, many changes will have been made, which is what Red Light jokingly points a finger at. Shinzu and his ‘assistant’ Lili (Vivid Wang) try to get a permit from the right agency, not before getting a permit to speak with some who will offer them a permit. Confusing? Thankfully the plot is a lot easier to follow and doesn’t take itself so seriously.
What you start to understand is that for China’s seemingly prudish behaviour, there lies a contradiction, as one-by-one, customers appear after hours with one eye looking through the shop window and another over their shoulder, so as not to be spotted by gossiping members of the local community, as Shinzu points out in his opening monologue ‘...nobody does it better than the Chinese, because there’s 1.3 billion of us.’
Dream of Red Light (the shops’ name) is proving to be a success within the community, as crime levels have gone down and bickering amongst couples has stopped, but without an official permit to sell sex toys and a very conservative and jobsworth neighbourhood watch inspector looking for law breakers, a risk of closure is imminent.
So it’s up to Shinzu and Lili to find a solution, which will see them on the right side of the law and traditional values and hopefully with both kneecaps.
Director: Sam Voutas
This is Sam Voutas’ (King of Peking, 2017) directorial debut and as a foreigner living and working in China within the film industry, he brings an outsider’s perspective on China’s ideas of tradition, value and society. What he’s created is a simple rag-to-riches story and the struggle of the down and out, rising to the top and to good effort. It’s funny, although not clever, but having it set in a sex shop makes the story more interesting, as opposed to a tea shop, which is what the Chinese board of control wanted.
Cast: Zhao Jun, Vivid Wang