Friday, 20 January 2012


In this film, subtitled A Sex Shop Comedy, Greek Australian director and writer Sam Voutas, the son of a diplomat who partly grew in Beijing, where he now resides, uses the genre of comedy to have a humorous, yet hard hitting on the growth of Chinese capitalism, where it seems that everybody bends, sometimes a little, sometimes much more that that, to get ahead, including estate or party officials, where becoming rich as fast as possible seems to be the only measure of success. In particular, its burgeoning sex shop industry does not only creates opportunities for suspect business ventures, but also highlights the conflict between modernity and tradition, particularly in relation to sexual values. It is indicative that Red Light Revolution, which is having a limited release in Britain on Monday 23rd of January at The Prince Charles Cinema to coincide with the Chinese New Year celebration (click here for more information), the first ever public showing apart from last year London Far East Film Festival, has not been shown in China at all. It is doubtful that it will be ever released there at all (I hope I am wrong on this).

For contemporary Western standards, in spite of having been subtitled A Sex Shop Comedy, it is very tame, so if you, my dear reader, expect to be titillated by it, you will be wasting your money. I hope that it will have a wider release in Britain, as it is very funny, the warmth of the actors playing the roles of the protagonists being so contagious that I could not stop smiling, and laughing, all the way through at their antics and their humanity.

Shunzi (Jun Zhao), a Beijinger in his thirties, loses his job as a cab driver after a difference of opinions with the owner. The consequence being that he also loses both his home and his wife (Tess Liu), as she kicks him out, in the presence of her lover, his mistake having been to register the deeds of the house on her name. Seeking refuge in his parents home with his beloved dog, he cannot sleep because of the constant sound coming from their bedroom, which he first attributed to rats, then to... well... rabbits. He meets Lili (Vivid Wang), a bright twenty something, in a dead end job promoting a diet tea brand. Most importantly, he also bumps into an old school chum, a man who carries a gigantic dong in his briefcase, who convinces him that his future resides in opening a sex shop, as there is quick and easy money and no capital needed, a Japanese investor he knows will provide that.

This investor, Iggy (Masanobu Otsuka) more like a gangster who fancies himself as a painter with a penchant for breaking knee caps, does supplies him with a stock of sex toys, provided that Shunzi gets a business permit, but his conditions are extortionate. He partners with Lili, as she has the keys for an empty empty, and Dreams of Red Light opens for business, the first day being a disaster, as they encounter the prejudices of the older generation... but, wait... the night was something else. All the old and young owls populate the shop, their prejudices melting in the darkness, the shop becoming very popular until one day...

Disaster strucks as Shunzi forgot all about the business permit. All their attempts to get one are practically rendered useless, as they battle with government bureaucracy, going round and round, at one point we see them struggling to fill a form to enquiry for a form for a business permit. On top of that, the small “favours” given to the local neighbourhood watch official to divert his attention from their business are unfruitful, as their stock is discovered, and confiscated. Iggy is most displeased at the situation, grabbing not only all their takings, but demanding even more...

What to do?

And here is when salvation comes, in the shape of tradition...

Kudos given to Jun Zhao, as Sunzi, and Vivid Wang as Lili, as they basically carry Red Light Revolution on their shoulders with their humour and warmth, with an excellent supporting cast which, I suspect, of not professional actors, at least, most of them. Sam Voutas has a cameo appearance as Jack Deroux, the Western sex industry magnate, the man with six Ferraris in his garage.

Some information on the sex shop industry, provided by the distributor:

Fun Facts
1:                 Number of sex shops in Beijing in 1996
2000+:        Number of sex shops in Beijing in 2010
1.3 trillion:   Number of condoms made in China every year
70%:           Percentage of world’s sex toys made in China
Shanghai:   Site of the world’s largest sex expo
10,000 +:    Number of sex toys companies in China
1:                 Number of feature films about these shops

Red Light Revolution is distributed in Britain by Terracota Distribution, and it is having its theatrical opening on Friday 20th January 2012.

The DVD will be released in Britain on the 13th February 2012.

For screenings please click HERE.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012


The blindness of hatred creates an environment where only hatred flourishes.

In Revenge: a Love Story (Fuk sau che chi sei ), the DVD having been released on the 9th January 2012 (and, yes, this review is late, I know: mea culpa), upcoming Hong Kong young director Wong Ching Po has taken a typical genre of their industry, the horror film, and transformed it into a fast pacing view not only into the violence of hatred, and the vicious environment it creates, but also into the corruption and abuse resulting from power structures. The intelligence of this film not only lies in its argument on the nature of hatred and its relationships with love and power, which is how I interpreted it, but also in that it can also be read as a visceral and extreme horror thriller, sometimes literally, with plenty of the expected violence and gore. In fact, Terracota, its British distributor, is releasing the DVD under its Terror Cota label. Hollywood B movies used to be the masters of this approach once upon a time, now that mantra has moved to East Asia.

In the opening sequence, two detectives, Jeff (Chin Siu Ho) and Kwok Wah (Tony Ho), investigate a series of murders of pregnant women, their foetuses having been crudely cut from their bodies, causing their deaths. Frog men recover a plastic bag from the river containing the remains of the unborn babies, and, as crucially for the story, the ID card of one of their colleagues, who has disappeared.

A young man is arrested as he tries to escape in a road block. After a brutal interrogation, although the proper word to describe it would be torture, the man, Chan Kit, refuses to cooperate, claiming he has been framed by the police before. The two detectives know about it, as they were part of the team that framed him six months before, earning Chan Kit a period in prison for assault on a police officer.

Intelligently weaved flashbacks reveal the romantic yet dark love story that lies behind the killings, the story of the love between two people on the margins of society, Chan Kit himself (Juno Mak, who does his own absolutely painful stunts, believe me), a low labourer, and Cheng Wing (convincingly played by Japanese porn star Sola Aoi), a mentally retarded school girl. She escapes from a Social Welfare home, where she had been taken after her grandmother, and carer, dies of natural causes, I hastily add. The chief of the local police station, confusing her for a prostitute, rapes her. Chan Kit and Wing, not realizing the identity of the rapist, report the assault. The resulting gang rape leaves her pregnant, and a cover-up that lands him six months in prison.

Six months to silently endure his pain and his burning hatred of those officers, hatred coming from the guts. Quite interestingly, the question of which one of the rapists is the father of her unborn child is never raised, her subsequent action to provide an alibi for him after his arrest, accused of being the serial killer, proves her absolute love for him, a love above everything else, including her own life.

In the completely unexpected ending, utterly shocking, redemption is no longer possible as the violence of hatred has created an environment where innocence cannot flourish, not any more, where the horror of hatred broods in the hearts of those who were, once, innocents.

The original story by Juno Mak, and developed by Lai-yin Leung and Wong Ching Po, has not only produced a visceral horror thriller, but also raised questions about the nature of hatred, violence, love, and power structures. Jimmy Wong's cinematography conveys both the naturalness of their daily lives and the darkness of their story, the rape scene being particularly memorable in its chiaroscuro photography. Dan Findlay's score, also performed by him, adds to the atmosphere of the film.

Revenge: A Love Story is distributed in Britain by Terror Cota, a label of Terracota Distribution. It is already on sale.

Director’s Statement
"REVENGE: A LOVE STORY is a story about hatred. When we were drafting the story, a question arose, "who is the real victim in revenge?'

We were obsessed by this question every moment until one day, I picked up the book "Wild Grass" by Lu Xun. There was an essay entitled 0020 "Vengeance". I came up with a new thought afterwards.

Perhaps the victim is the crowd who sees the happenings but indeed doesn't know anything.
Human beings can never let go of hatred. Being in hatred is like a one way trip into darkness, you will never come back until it is settled.

We wanted the film to relieve the pain brought by hatred, but we failed. We can't imagine how torturing it is to live with hatred after all.

Now the film is finished, everyone returns to their original life. It is my time to fade out from the film. Perhaps the best way out of hatred is to leave.

Revenge: A Love Story (2010)
Won Silver St George Award at 33rd Moscow International Film Festival 2011 for Best Direction Wong Ching Po and Best Director Wong Ching Po
Won 15th Puchon International Film Festival 2011, Best Actor, Juno Mak
Official nomination USA Fantastic Film Festival 2011

Technical Specifications

Bonus tracks:
  • Making Of,
  • Director Interview,
  • Producer Interview,
  • Trailers,
  •  "What is Terracotta Festival?" Featurette.
Hong Kong 2010, Thriller; Certificate: 18.
Running time: 91 mins.
Language: Cantonese with English subtitles.
Audio- Dolby Surround
Ratio- 4:3 Letterboxed


Wednesday, 11 January 2012

John Akomfrah's The Nine Muses

Some films are there to be “consumed”, whilst others are to be “savoured”.
John Akomfrah's The Nine Muses falls in the later category.

A elegiac audio visual poem that explores not only
Caribbean and African immigration to Britain,
but the idea of memory being at the root of our humanity,
the Homeric Odissey still with us...

The Greek goddess Mnemosyne slept with Zeus for nine nights

An exploration of the idea of a journey by itself,
as the very concept of journey is about memory,

we see it by the use of Dewald Aukema's camera which is hardly ever quiet, a camera
that is always roving over the immutable wintry landscapes of Alaska

Are they immutable?

interpoled with archive footage depicting constant movement: trucks in wintry landscapes,
gritting lorries, river flooding through flooded towns...

we being the witnesses of the passage of space and time

as we leaf through the traces left behind in our landscapes, those places we call ours
sometimes a track on the snow

not monuments as we understand them, just traces,
perhaps traces that will be forgotten if we don't witness them

if the nine muses don't sing about them,
if the nine muses don't sing about the beauty of those wintry landscapes as the storm
rages crystallizing those instants into words, into songs...

we hear the voices from times past,
those of Homer, of Milton, of Beckett, of Joyce, of Emily Dickinson,
the voice of many others...

Is there a narrative in the world, in our memories?

A narrative as we have understand it throughout the centuries,
a narrative with a beginning, a middle,an end...

such as in an Hollywood movie...

The Nine Muses is not that...
It is an intense yet contemplative reflection on the nature of memory,
on the nature of traces of the journeys of humanity,

of the journeys undertaken by those unknown yet so influential
people from the Caribbean Islands, from Africa, from Asia, from so many places

voices from a place, from a time,
shaping this island, this island we have made ours as well,
adding our invisible yet still powerful monuments to its history...

Director and writer: John Akomfrah
Original score: Trevor Mathison
Music: the voices of Wagner, Schubert, the Gundecha Brothers, Leontyne Price, and others...

There are films which are “consumed”, there are films which are “savoured”. If you are one of those people who likes the first and dislike the second, The Nine Muses is not for you. If you are one of those who likes the intensity of flavour in your cinema, The Nine Muses is for you.

Those images... traces of history already recorded in my memory...

Official Selection Orrizonti, Venice Film Festival 2010,
London Film Festival 2010, Sundance Film Festival 2011, Sheffield Documentary Film Festival 2011

UK Release date: October 2011
Showing in Selected Cinemas in London and around the country

“I am obsessed with archival material: those ghostly traces of lived moments, those pariah images and sounds that now occupy a unique space somewhere between history and myth… How does one begin to say something new about a story everyone claims to know? … what considerations should govern how one constructs a “historical fiction” about events and lives that have been profoundly shaped by what the St Lucian poet Derek Walcott called, “the absence of ruins”? Lives without monuments, without the ‘official’ signature of recognition and interest.
This film is my attempt to suggest what some of those “ruins” might look like, a desire to look into that dark mirror of one’s own past in search of images, ideas, writers and music with which to construct such a monument.”

John Akomfrah

Distributed by New Wave Films

Wuthering Heights reviewed

Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights extracted not only the essence of the raw power of the doomed love tale of the two youngsters, Catherine and Heatcliff, from Emily Brontë's novel, and the desolate beauty of the landscape, but, most of all, the sense of entrapment pervading the whole story by the violence of nature and social conventions, and brilliantly translated them to this succinct but heart wrenching film. What defines it is the intense emotional impact it has on the audience (in this case, the audience being myself), not the easy tear jerking sentimentality that we see so often in the screen, specially in the so-called “feel good” movies, but a kind of cry coming out of the heart, that not only buries deep under the skin, but stays there afterwards. A kind of emotional pain that is even stronger because at its core I found the dryness of my eyes. I am writing this review a couple of weeks after I saw the film, yet it still goes round and round on my head, I cannot get it out of my heart, of my mind...

To achieve this Andrea Arnold, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Olivia Hetreed, wrenched the guts of Catherine Earnshaw and Heatcliff (just Heatcliff) doomed tale out of the core of Emily Brontë's story and threw them onto our faces, the violent beauty of the hills of the Yorkshire Dales powerfully conveyed through the lens of the cinematographer, Robbie Ryan, and the eyes of Andrea Arnold, in a series of vignettes and close ups that chills the bones in winter, and makes the heart smile in summer, a landscape being like a chisel moulding the characters and their lives. Surely, the purists will moan at the disappearance of some of the characteristics of the book, such as the narrator, and the post Catherine life at Wuthering Heights; the ending of the film just hinting at what is still to come. Yet, it is the distilling of the story to its core elements is what gives Arnold's interpretation of the story its raw power.

I initially felt that her choice of a 4:3 format as opposed to the more usual 16:9 was somewhat disconcerting, surely, that luscious landscape deserved the wider format. Yet, after a while, I realized that by doing so, Arnold was able to brilliantly yet subliminally convey the sense of entrapment that limited not only Cathy's and Heatcliff's options, but those of everybody else; the close ups of nature indicating a wild life which has been moulded by this landscape as strongly as the humans lives are.

The transformation of a free spirit Cathy the child (Shannon Beer conveying the nuances of her impudent innocence of the “ways of the world”) into Miss Catherine Earnshaw the young lady (Kaya Scodelario's performance strikes right into Cathy's schizophrenic position between her mind and her heart) after her stay at the Linton's home is as brutally clear in the film as it is in the book, signalling the power of the constraints posed by social conventions which led to the despair of her relationship with Heatcliff (James Howson admirable portray of the steely and cruel determination of Heatcliff, so appallingly treated by Catherine's brother, to reclaim her) , the presumably orphan “gipsy” boy (Solomon Glave) picked up from the streets of Liverpool by Cathy's father.

Andrea Arnold's decision to distil the tragic love story of the two youngsters who leap at each other from across class and race boundaries to its bare bones paid off, as I felt its humanity grabbing and holding my heart, a timeless story. A classic version of the classic tale.

Wuthering Heights is distributed by Artificial Eye.

For more information on the film please click HERE.