Red Light Revolution is the second feature of the Shanghai-based Australian writer and director Sam Voutas. It failed to get a release in China so the U.K and Canada are the first regions to get this film. Perhaps Chinese censors are reluctant to release this film due to the subject matter: a comedy looking at the explosion in adult-toy stores in China. Was this too American Pie and no dignity? A shocking expose on people forced into the adult entertainment industry by economics?
Shunzi (Jun Zhao) is a low-paid cab driver who can’t provide the life his wife wants. After getting fired from his job and thrown out of his house by his wife he moves in with his mother (Ji Qing) and father (Huimin Tian). Things look bad but a chance encounter with an old friend leads to him opening an adult-toy shop. Unfortunately he winds up stuck with a Japanese supplier named Iggi (Masanobu Otsuka) who turns out to be a psychotic gangster and a conservative neighbourhood watch that harasses him. Shunzi could lose everything but his customer base and his partner Lili (Vivid Wang) have other ideas.
There is nothing daring or shocking enough to sate the appetites of gross-out comedy fans or those looking for drama. There are no gross-out gags, no nudity, and no bodily fluids. The jokes are inoffensive to the point of being harmless and it ducks showing anything too risqué, eschewing heavy smut for a light-hearted tale of a community brought together by a taboo subject.
While the story is interesting little is made of it and the plot plays out in a formulaic way. There are some nice observations on modern Chinese capitalism. Shunzi laments the way society has changed with a simple line about shops and what they stock:
“Nowadays it’s what you want, not what you need.”
When a friend upbraids Shunzi about his reluctance over selling adult toys he says:
“You’re a real peasant. This stuff really sells in the west.”
These, however, are few and far between and never really examined. Equally lightweight is the characterisation which is wafer thin, all archetypes with no depth or growth. Not that this hampers the acting which is amusing and the film’s saving grace.
Jun plays Shunzi with great gusto. He is likeable ball of energy thanks to a degree of over-acting that sees his face contort with every new scandal. Lead actress Vivid Wang is fine in her debut role and delivers a good comedic performance. While their performances, like most of the cast’s, were one note they were still amusing.
Overall I was amused. Red Light Revolution is competently directed and written and good-natured but anybody looking for gross-out comedy or an insight into Chinese societal attitudes to sex will be disappointed. It never flagged for a moment but neither did it surprise.
DVD extra features:
- Directors intro
- Deleted scenes
- Audience Q&A’s at Terracotta Festival & Wuhan Film Club
- Making of….
- Featurette: Art Auction
The features are pretty generous and contain a lot of information about the making of the film and the ideas behind it. The visuals are crisp and vibrant as befits the film and the audio is sharp and clear which helps with the dialogue. Subtitles are easy to read and never obscure.