Nominated for Best Unproduced Screenplay at Australia's 2008 Inside Film Awards, Red Light Revolution becomes reality for Australia born and China based writer-director Sam Voutas as his first feature film that tells of the classic underdog story, with a likable but downtrodden Beijinger Shunzi (Zhao Jun) whom we see being sacked from his cabbie job, before slowly and grudgingly finding his footing in opening up a shop in a quaint district to hawk adult toys.
Although it's China we're talking about, I'm pretty of the issues that one will probably face from friends and family if one were to open the same here in Singapore, with the usual disbelief and embarrassment that comes associated with opening such a shop, since we're still quite the conservative society at core. So it's easy to identify with the protagonist's predicament, and the multitude of challenges faced from family, friends even and that of the authorities, who get portrayed here through the personification of a neighbourhood watch inspector who patrols the grounds on the lookout for anyone circumventing rules and regulations in place.
But for Shunzi and business partner Lili (Vivid Wang) whom he came to know during a short lived supermarket job, it's an uphill battle in trying to figure out their business model in a shophouse provided courtesy by Lili's auntie, having taken stocks from an eccentric Japanese businessman Iggy (Masanobu Otsuka) to sell to what is the world's largest consumer market. In fact, the opening of this film is economics 101, which explains the pure and simple rationale of making money should one be able to tap on the needs of the population, so adult toys it is for Red Light Revolution, which the narrative has a character explaining that one should swallow one's pride to do anything to make ends meet, with the option open to always move on from doing something that is perceived to be embarrassing, but one eventually walks away laughing last and the loudest with profits, then able to do something else that one desires.
Sam Voutas crafted this film with plenty of memorable supporting characters who become the inevitable patrons of Shunzu and Lili's shop, making this the delightful comedy it is through various comedic situations they find themselves in. An extended running joke involving Shunzi's aged parents (played by Tian Huimin and Ji Qing) has to be seen (well, implied really) to be believed, who on one hand frowns upon the son's career choice given what would be the shamelessness of it all and the loss of Face to the family, but on the other are quite the jackrabbits behind closed doors. Zhao Jun also proves to be quite the excellent comedian in playing the down and out guy seeking his fortunes, playing his part with aplomb and sharing great chemistry with co-star Vivid Wang.
As a first film, this certainly ranks high in terms of production values, with a nice story to tell and great comedy to boot, and although the underdog struggle isn't exactly a new narrative tale, having this filled with a sense of cheekiness helped as well, with Voutas also appearing in a small supporting role that demonstrated the fearlessness of the filmmaking in making fun of himself, while at the same time contained some veiled critique on a touchy (pardon the pun) subject. It stayed focused on the story it wanted to tell without going off on a wild tangent as with some debut efforts in trying to encompass everything, and didn't bite off more than it can chew in its subplots that provided additional flavour to tickle that funny bone.
You may be skeptical whether someone outside of China could nail a taboo subject of and in a foreign land, but this film hits it squarely on the head you'll be surprised to discover it's not directed by a native Chinese. Red Light Revolution is currently travelling the festival circuit, so if you do come across it one day, make it your priority to watch this. Certainly recommended!