With a vast array of blow-up dolls and sex toys and an abundance of simply laughable scenes, Sam Voutas’ Red Light Revolution (2010) may not be the most successful film from China in recent years, but is successful in challenging the country’s old-fashioned traditions and in attempting to shed some light on little-observed aspects of Chinese culture.
Shunzi, an ordinary Beijing man, is quite the unlucky fellow – despite his desire to provide for his wife, he cannot satisfy her grand desires. And after being abruptly fired from the taxi company he works for, she wastes no time before kicking him out of the house and turning into his soon-to-be ex. With not much choice or bright prospects for the future, Shunzi moves back with his parents and serves them a lovely dinner surprise – the news of his intention to open his own sex toy shop. From dealing with a gangster sex toys supplier to uniting with the neighbourhood to save the shop after danger falls of it being closed down, Shunzi is the funny protagonist of a humorous tale about traditional dogmas colliding with modern understandings of sexuality.
A fresh new voice in Asian cinema, Greek-Australian Voutas offers a social comment on Chinese society, disguised as a sex comedy about kinky toys. The film highlights the battle between old communism and new capitalism, with a few years delay in China than the rest of the world. In a land where sex is a taboo, despite China being the largest producer of sex toys, the protagonists have to conceal their real business and embark on a hilarious journey, where nothing is off-limits in the quest to make money. The result being a production much assimilating sitcom quirkiness, rather than crossing paths with anything over-the-top or offensive, Red Light Revolution is full of endearing funniness, where the interaction between the two main protagonists holds much of the film’s charm.
Jun Zhao is perfectly cast as the chubby and bubbly luckless loser, whose attempts to live a good life never really pay off. Through his adventures and misfortunes, the viewer becomes affectionate for this unlucky loser with a good heart, and there is much warmth in store for the audience through the union of Shunzi and his neighbours on a quest to salvage the shop, which has so strangely formed a bond between those unusual characters.
With some familiar faces among the performers, namely Masanobu Otsuka and Tess Liu, Voutas creates an endearing atmosphere of lovable characters, whose interaction make up for the over-the-top farce and the disjointedness of a film which cannot exactly decide what it wants to be. Blending broad slapstick sequences with long monologues about the selling value of sex, it is the originality of Red Light Revolution’s concept and the uniqueness of the humour that are able to salvage the film and turn it into an entertaining look onto the reality of contemporary China.