Tina, a young Taiwanese woman, searches for work in a London blighted by economic insecurity. Frustrated in her pursuit of a 'respectable' job, separated from her family and living in overpriced accommodation with her equally luckless boyfriend, she grudgingly takes a role as a receptionist at a massage parlour located in a rented house on a quiet suburban street. Here she becomes part of a new family, a trio of Asian women presided over by a matriarchal madam, visited by a succession of men seeking lonely comfort, money or dominance. An assured and challenging debut, the film gives an outsiders perspective of London, ironically given the radical interiority of the brothel in which most of it is set - a hidden world, where the indentured women must never let the customers see each other and have to insulate the house so that the musky reek of sex, commerce and alienation doesn't seep out to the neighbours.
This is that rare lower budgeted film which makes a genuine virtue of its limitations, creating a mise en scene that is at once squalid and strangely comforting. It uses subtle shifts in tonality to explore the complexities of its subject. Powerful drama and bleak comedy mingle with discomforting body-horror, as the prim and well-composed Tina confronts the unhygienic, squalid world of the brothel, eating her dinner at a table with women who have come straight from their last physical assignation, taking us as the audience through revulsion to understanding and sympathy. Director Jenny Lu unflinchingly depicts the subjugation and degradation inherent to prostitution whilst at the same time highlighting the oddly familial and beguilingly tender camaraderie that develops between the women in the lulls between rings on the doorbell. She also takes care to locate the brothel in a wider social context, with news of soaring unemployment and house prices appearing in news clips like reports of zombie outbreaks. Tina's boyfriend, her careers advice officer - even the thuggish toy boy of the madam - are all under economic duress, each confronting their own instability. The Receptionist depicts an irreversible de-eroticization of sex, it's reduction to a melancholy and brutal transaction by economic hardship and need. This film dexterously avoids exploitation while rigorously exploring it as a theme.
For a first time feature-film director, Jenny Lu exhibits a bracing focus and confidence, taking risks and utilizing the full range of filmic technique without ever over-stylizing or losing sight of her characters. She confidently explores the ambiguities and paradoxes of her subject, oscillating between a cool detachment and a deeply human empathy. When the film finally expands outwards, away from London, it ascends to an emotionally powerful conclusion without lapsing into sentimentality. Lu elicits brave performances from her largely female cast, who are uniformly excellent, with a special mention going to Shiang-chyi Chen as the tragic, trapped yet still defiant SaSa.
The Receptionist is a must see for anyone who still believes in the power and possibilities of film, a sobering and cliché-free portrayal of the realities and surreality of the sex trade and the debut of a talented, focused and unique directorial talent. Highly recommended.
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'The Receptionist' is a film based on an illegal massage parlour in London, and follows the lives of the employees and clients as seen through the eyes of a Taiwanese graduate employed as a receptionist.
Uploaded by: FREEMAN
September 23, 2022 at 10:21 AM