Playing to a sold out crowd and ultimately winning the Silver Screen Award for Best Feature and Best Director at this year's Singapore International Film Festival, Sex Volunteer tosses up the taboo and raises a lot of questions through its sprawling view points, with no clear answers in sight since it’s unlikely anyone would have thought about them out of the blue in the first place, until confronted with the issues squarely without room to wriggle out from.
If we wonder whether androids do dream of electronic sheep, then something more realistic is that of the disabled wanting to feel sexual intimacy. The last time as far as my personal film experience on this issue had gone was Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July, where a frustrated Vietnam Vet played by Tom Cruise got really, really frustrated when he couldn’t erm, get it up through paid sex.
Sex Volunteer offers multiple narrative viewpoints which makes it a little more interesting to sit through, culminating in a film within a film that served as a bookend to its introduction, where we follow a police vice bust operation, which calls for the barging into a hotel room used illegally for sexual services. To the cops’ surprise they find a man suffering from cerebral palsy being caught up in the thick of the action. Things get a little bit stranger when the broker between the man and the prostitute turns out to be a priest, and that the prostitute was volunteering her services for free. The disabled man aside, I’m sure the involvement of a man of religion, and a free service would always raise eyebrows.
The film then took on what I thought was a pseudo-documentary attempt, where experts and general folks offered their take on the subject, which covers the pluses and minuses of the issue at hand. This comes courtesy of the narrative’s interviewing crew, where we peek into the Q&As through the lens of a camera in talking heads style. The second half of the film however dealt with a film student Ye-ri (Han Yeo-reum, whom some will remember starring in Kim Ki-duk’s The Bow) wanting to explore the same subject through a recreation of the incident at the start. With one film being made and the production process being shot at the same time, you’re forced to adopt different perspectives, which also serve to fill up the backstory and narrative gaps leading to the opening scene.
This of course means a repeat of what we’ve seen earlier, though with a little bit of a disgusting twist to it taken from stuff which urban legends are made of. There’s also that challenge in the forward moving timeline when Ye-ri’s hired AV actress failed to turn up for feeling of the sheer absurdity of it all – she has to make love to a real cerebral palsy sufferer – which opens the filmmaker to decide if she’s going ahead to sacrifice for her craft for real by filling in for the role, much to the chagrin of her boyfriend who also turns out to be the DoP.
Ultimately you’re confronted with the notion not only whether sex is a basic human right, but that everyone, the disabled included, have an inescapable sexual desire wired into us, something that can’t be willed away like what one of the CP sufferers lamented in the film. If he’s able to, that will somewhat address the issue of not being frustrated with not physically able to get what they inherently desire (not that they do so always), because frankly even getting a service will depend on the provider willing to achieve some compromises, and break the taboo barrier rather than to chicken out and service someone normal instead, for an easier time and probable faster turnaround as well.