Film: Red Light Revolution
UK Release date: 13th February 2012
Director: Sam Voutas
Starring: Zhao Jun, Vivid Wang, Jiang Xiduo, Masanobu Otsuka
Running time: 91 mins
Reviewer: Adam Wing
Lets start with some interesting facts, shall we? In 1996 there was only one sex shop in Beijing, by 2010 there were over 2000. 70% of the world’s sex toys are made in China and 1.3 trillion condoms are made there every year. Here’s the fun part though, so I hope you’ve been paying attention. How many films have been made about Beijing sex shops? That’s right folks, just the one. Welcome to Red Light Revolution, a new film by Sam Voutas. With the movie failing to secure a release date in China, the U.K is officially the first territory in the world to see it. Which might seem a little strange, as Voutas himself has stated, “In my neighbourhood alone, there are three adult stores within a block of me. Business, it seems, is booming.” In the real world perhaps, but not on the big screen.
When Shunzi (Zhao Jun) loses his job as a cab driver, he finds himself without a wife and home. His spouse - a money loving cheat - has found herself another man and Shunzi’s life couldn’t possibly get any worse, or could it? With no savings to fall back on he is forced to move in with his parents, taking a humiliating job in a supermarket to make ends meet. You know you’re not living the dream when the job advert reads ‘fat man required’. Still, at least he makes a new friend, and his quirky colleague (Vivid Wang) might be able to help him set up his new venture. With nowhere else to go, Shunzi steps behind China’s ‘red curtain’ and secretly opens a sex shop. Not that he’ll be telling his parents anytime soon, as far as their concerned he’s selling ‘modern lifestyle goods’.
The only problem is, the shops supplier is a local gangster who will break his legs if he doesn’t cough up the cash each week. Throw in a local neighbourhood watch representative and Shunzi faces the threat of losing everything. Which begs the question, where’s the community spirit when you need it? Red Light Revolution is the second feature by Sam Voutas and was nominated for Best Unproduced Screenplay at the 2008 Australian Inside Film Awards (Sam himself was born in Australia). Featuring a cast of rising Asian actors, including Zhao Jun, Vivid Wang, Jiang Xiduo and Masanobu Otsuka, Red Light Revolution opens its door to U.K. shores courtesy of Terracotta Distribution.
So what is China missing out on then? The answer to that is straightforward enough, a hit and miss comedy that gets by on charm alone. Red Light Revolution sure has its moments - a handful of jokes really hit the mark - but it doesn’t make the most of its fruitful subject matter. If you’re going to make a film about sex shops, and you already know that your chances of securing local release are limited, you may as well go out with a bang. Red Light Revolution plays it way too safe, refusing to take chances with its taboo subject matter. There are a handful of satirical swipes littered throughout, but for the most part Red Light Revolution comes on like an extended episode of your favourite Sunday evening sitcom. It’s lightweight, occasionally breezy, but not quite tough enough.
The storyline lacks punch, relying far too heavily on offbeat characters that don’t advance the plot. They’re entertaining on a superficial level but dig a little deeper and there’s nothing but layers of cinematic dust. Jun and Wang hold the film together through stormy seas though, and its their growing friendship that provides the film with heart and charm - Wang possesses wonderful comic timing and Jun gets the balance just right between pitiful and pitiless. Despite a flimsy premise and lightweight plotting, Red Light Revolution never feels like a chore. Voutas may have referenced ‘The Full Monty’ in terms of economic backdrop, but he can’t match the film for laughs. His latest movie deserves credit for upsetting the Chinese Film Board but like me, if they actually sat down to watch the film they’d probably wonder what all the fuss was about. Is now a good time to remind them that there are over 10000 sex toy companies in China alone? Why ban the first film that dares to talk about it?
Occasionally funny and occasionally smart, but occasionally doesn’t quite cut it. Red Light Revolution is worth slowing down for, but chances are, you won’t find the love of your life unless you get out more.