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The Screening Room

Sex, toys, action! Comedy spotlights China's adult shops

By Grace Wong, for CNN
Sexual revolution: A scene from "Red Light Revolution," a Mandarin-language comedy about sex toy shops in China.
Sexual revolution: A scene from "Red Light Revolution," a Mandarin-language comedy about sex toy shops in China.
  • China's sexual revolution has resulted in a plethora of sex stores
  • "Red Light Revolution" is a comedy about a Beijinger who sets up such a shop
  • Director aims to release film in China and around the world before the end of the year
  • He calls the Mandarin-language film China's first sex shop comedy

(CNN) -- Now that he has finished filming his latest movie, director Sam Voutas doesn't know what to do with the boxes and boxes of sex toys he has accumulated during the course of filming.

"The first thing I've got to decide is what to do with all the toys. I'm looking forward to getting them out of my apartment," he told CNN recently.

Let's back up.

The film in question is not pornography, but a Mandarin-language comedy about China's adult sex shops. "Red Light Revolution" tells the story of a down-and-out Beijinger who decides to open a sex toy store in his neighborhood.

When Australian-born Voutas, who did double duty as writer and director, moved to China five years ago, he was stunned to find sex stores "on every corner."

"This was surprising from a Western perspective, something I hadn't seen on TV and I wanted to pursue that," he recounted.

The result is a film -- Voutas calls it China's first sex shop comedy -- that shows a side of China that, he said, rarely gets covered in the mainstream media.

Watch a trailer for the film on YouTube

Attitudes towards sex have been liberalizing since China legalized adult sex shops in the early 1990s; just look at the booming manufacture of erotic toys and the scores of shops that stock them, said Voutas.

"Everybody is on the internet and sex is one of the things people talk about on blogs and Chinese websites," he said.

But it is still a sensitive topic, one that reflects "tradition colliding with modern commercial interests," Voutas explained.

Older generations are unlikely to speak frankly about sex, he said, noting that the lead actress in "Red Light Revolution" chose not to tell her parents the premise of the movie.

And even though they are common, there is a stigma associated with frequenting or operating stores that stock blow-up dolls, supplements and other sex aids.

That is what this (film) is about -- how you balance traditional values with what you want to do.
--Sam Voutas, director of "Red Light Revolution"
  • China
  • Movies
  • Sexuality
  • Entertainment

"People who open these shops are taking a risk -- what will their parents and friends think? The concept of face is important.

"That is what this (film) is about -- how you balance traditional values with what you want to do," Voutas said.

Despite its provocative topic, Voutas said the film, which was shot in China, received a surprising amount of local support.

The cast, who have acted in quite big movies in China, including "Mao's Last Dancer" and "The City of Life and Death," were keen to be involved, he said.

One of China's biggest adult shop chains, no doubt seeking an opportunity for publicity, also backed the film, providing products that were used in the film.

The fact that local actors and actresses wanted to work on the film is a sign of changing sexual attitudes in China, Voutas said.

Although, he noted, using humor allowed him to broach the topic in a more innocuous manner. A personal story about an everyday guy, "Red Light Revolution" is in the style of a Woody Allen film, addressing sex more through dialogue rather than graphic displays, he said.

The fact it is a comedy may also help when it comes to getting the film released in China, where movies are subject to strict censorship control.

Voutas said he most likely will have to make a separate version for authorities, one that cuts select shots of imagery or dubs over explicit language.

That is a common occurrence in China, he said, pointing out that a modified version of Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution" was released in the country.

Voutas, also the director of documentary "Shanghai Bride" and an actor, started writing the screenplay for "Red Light Revolution" in 2006.

It was nominated for Best Unproduced Screenplay at Australia's Inside Film Awards in 2008, which gave him the impetus to get the movie made.

Voutas believes the comedy, which is currently in post production and which he wants to release before the end of the year, has universal appeal.

It is set in China and the cast speaks in colloquial Mandarin. That is likely to make it fresh for Chinese audiences, who "certainly haven't seen anything like this," he said.

At the same time, he added, he wrote the screenplay with a Western sensibility and believes it will resonate with a Western sense of humor.

"I hope audiences will say it's an entertaining picture and at the same time come away from it saying they haven't seen a Chinese movie like that before," he said.