|Sam Voutas (right) directing Red Light Revolution. Images courtesy Sam Voutas.|
On the eve of Red Light Revolution’s online release in China, and theatrical runs in Canada and the UK, I’ve selected a few choice quotes from my interview with Sam for Screening China. My full interview will be available in the February issue of Metro.
How did an Australian film director come to be living and working in Beijing?
I’ve been residing in Beijing for over six years now, but the first time I came was when my folks brought me on holiday when I was two years old. At that time there very few foreigners in China, so I remember very clearly those feelings of being the “other”, of walking around and people staring because you look different. My mum is from Melbourne but she was in the public service, working in the embassies, so around 1986 we moved to China and lived here until 1989. I came back around 2005.
Were you working in the Chinese film industry before making Red Light Revolution?
Yes, the film that really started getting things going for me here was City of Life and Death [a.k.a. Nanjing! Nanjing!] directed by Lu Chuan. I auditioned for that movie in mid-2007 and got a role, although in the end I think maybe four-fifths of what I shot was not in the movie [laughs]. Since then I’ve been working on a lot of independent Chinese films, and also TV. Often I’ll be working as an actor, but at the same time I’ll also take on cameraman jobs, or editing. I think in the independent film world, if you only wear one hat, you’re going to be waiting for the phone to ring.
|Sam directs Zhao Jun (left), Vivid Wang (second from left) and Candy the blow-up doll in Red Light Revolution.|
I thought it was a very surprising change in China – the emergence of these sex shops. About 1992 I went to one of the first in Wangfujing [a prominent shopping strip near Tiananmen Square]. At that time it was very different – like a pharmacy. People were wearing lab coats. You don’t see those anymore! I considered making Red Light Revolution a documentary, but then thought, “Hold on, as a fiction piece there might be a lot more to run with.”
One of the things I loved about the film was the way it captures Beijing hua – the local dialect Beijingers speak on the street. Did you write the dialogue yourself, or did you have some help in getting that authentic Beijing flavour?
I wrote all the dialogue myself in English and then we translated it. Even though I speak Chinese, I think to be able to write a script that colloquial would have been impossible for me. So I wrote it in English and then had it translated into Chinese. Then I had that version re-translated to give it more of a Beijing flavour. So the jokes are actually the same – or similar – in English and Chinese, but it was mainly just sitting down with the translator and saying, “This is the phrase that we’ve got in English. Is there a similar phrase that has that same flavour in Beijing hua?
Given that non-approved films can’t be shown in Chinese cinemas, how have you been screening Red Light in China?
We’ve been taking it on tour. So next week we’re going to Shanghai, and then Kunming, Chengdu – showing it in small venues, but trying to pack them out, using internet word-of-mouth. So far the word-of-mouth on sites like Douban [a Chinese site similar to Facebook] has been overwhelmingly positive.
What kind of venues do you use?
We’ll do things like Yugong Yishan [a mid-sized rock venue] in Beijing. Some of them are not traditional theatres, but they can still fit 200 people. But we’ll also do things in a small café where we can only fit 50.
But one of the interesting things that’s happening in China is that there are about 20 million people who go to the cinema, and there are 450 million people who are watching media content on the internet. That makes it a very exciting time for independent filmmakers. For Chinese New Year, Tudou is going to do an online release of Red Light Revolution. They’ve purchased the online rights and they’re giving it a platform that’s going to bring it to many more people than we’d get with a cinema release.
Is that a pay-per-view model?
No, the Tudou deal will be free. Tudou is going to be promoting it and putting links on their front page. It will be accessible to anyone on the internet in mainland China.
So the rules pertaining to cinema releases don’t extend to online releases?
Not yet! So this is kind of an interesting window [laughs]. I don’t know how long that is going to last, but it creates an interesting opportunity for us. We’re also having a theatrical release in Canada and the U.K. in January, around those same dates. And it’ll be hitting DVD in the U.K. by Valentine’s Day in February. So we’re trying to go as “day-and-date” as possible around the world.
Red Light Revolution will be released in cinemas on January 13 in Toronto, January 23 in London, and January 27 in Vancouver.