A Predictable Tragedy – The Receptionist (Film Review)

Rating:

From the outside this illegal massage parlour looks like just another London home with a lot of “friends” coming in and out, but after our lead the Taiwanese graduate enters with the hopes of getting work as a receptionist the viewer is presented with a harsh environment that all are forced to inhabit for the one reason – survival. This piece puts the viewer as a witness to how the desperate immigrants are quickly digested and spat back out when they enter the relentless life of a sex worker and becoming ever more detached from their home. Although the topic is timeless the piece itself is produced in such a way that removes all mystery, its another great idea ruined by predictable writing.

The writer and director Jenny Lu (The Man Who Walked On The Moon, 2014) produced this piece after having experienced the struggle as a foreigner in London with the simple intent of surviving. Another to experience this was her close friend Anna who takes after the character in this piece with the same name and sadly meets the same fate. This gave Lu the push to make this piece; which succeeded in shining a light on those that arrive in London and fall into this line of work.

The piece’s appearance mirrors the world it portrays meaning there’s no romance, no golden hour, no glitter – it’s real and genuine; refusing to shed pity or glamourize. Being that this is a director’s biggest temptation it’s refreshing to see Lu refuse this and provide more truth and fewer frills.

The most prominent cinematic aspect of the piece is its beautiful soundtrack composed by Luming Lu (Xiao Mei, 2018) which manages to give those empty spaces the viewer may use to digest the piece an appropriate accompaniment to such thoughts.

Performances in this piece bounced from timid to theatrical, giving each character a two-dimensional existence within the story, provoking little emotion the viewer is left watching from the outside rather than feeling from the inside. Although, among the entire cast there were two individuals that gave their character’s presence; Sophie Gopsill playing the head of the massage parlor, Lily and Shiang-chyi Chen (Exit, 2014) the abrasive and callous sex worker, Sasa. With these two in a room, there is an energy and an intent to watch them. They managed to add shape to the story and gave their characters depth. Remove these two from the piece and it’ll be left limping with ineffectual performances and an unfulfilling plot.

This production managed to bag Lu the award for emerging director at the Asian American International Film Festival and with this being her first full feature piece it’s a nice welcome into the world of directing.

A piece with such a powerful topic has every chance to rock the viewer, but if every scene is played out as one predicts in this ‘show and tell’ fashion, it leaves the viewer with no requirement to think, just watch. Jenny Lu has proven to have the minerals to produce thought-provoking pieces, but for now those thoughts don’t last long, once the viewer is out of their seat and continuing their lives it’s difficult to imagine they’ll have this story sat in the front row.

Dir: Jenny Lu

Scr: Jenny Lu & Yi-Wen Yeh

Cast: Teresa Daley, Shiang-chyi Chen, Sophie Gopsill, Amanda Fan, Shuang Teng etc

Prd: Chin Chang, Christian Eisenbeiss, Chih-ming Huang etc

DOP: Gareth Munden

Music: Luming Lu & James Collins

Country: UK & Taiwan

Runtime: 1h 42min