As “Red Light Revolution’s” opening onscreen text points out, Beijing now sports some 2,000 sex shops — approximately 1,999 more than it did a quarter-century ago. Still, such flourishing trade retains a certain social stigma. That economy-vs.-propriety clash both propels Sam Voutas’ comedy and might well keep it off mainland Chinese screens, but elsewhere, this enterprising indie will be perceived as deriving pretty harmless fun from its “dirty” subject, in a tenor thankfully more droll than broad. Amusing pic is likeliest to prosper offshore in niche cable and DVD sales, with specialty theatrical exposure not impossible.
Pudgy Shunzi (Zhao Jun) is perpetually luckless, introduced losing his cab-driving job on the same day his wife announces she’s leaving him for a lover she’s already had for some time. Moving back into his parents’ pad, Shunzi despairs of climbing the ladder of economic opportunity until a prosperous old schoolmate (Jiang Xiduo) introduces him to a flamboyant supplier (Masanobu Otsuka) of adult toys and marital aids. (China now manufactures an estimated 70% of the world’s such items.)
Despite all embarrassed misgivings, Shunzi soon opens his own sex shop in tandem with new friend Lili (Vivid Wang, an Eve Arden-like find), whose auntie provides an empty storefront as venue. Business is bleak until they realize locals prefer to buy their dildos and rubbers at night, when area gossips presumably aren’t looking. Modest conflict is provided by a nosy fusspot whose obnoxious officiousness parodies Communist Party bureaucracy, and who’ll surely shut down the joint if he susses its X-rated nature.
The ultimately formulaic script by Aussie-born, Beijing-based helmer Sam Voutas (who also plays a porn mogul) could have thrown a few more narrative curveballs. But his generally deft direction makes the most of his agreeable performers in a fairly deadpan tenor that mostly eschews slapstick and caricature for the off-kilter, argumentative verbal riffing typical of Western indie comedy. Result is a consistently pleasant diversion, if seldom laugh-out-loud funny.
Budgetary limitations are sometimes felt but reasonably finessed in OK packaging. Soundtrack is dominated by energetic cuts from Chinese alt-rock bands.