by Kirsty Jones
Jenny Lu makes her feature directorial debut with The Receptionist, and places a spotlight on the heartbreaking and often desperate circumstances of those working in an illegal massage parlour in London. A film that was made possible through the support of her kickstarter backers.
Recently graduated and unable to find a job, Tina has landed on hard times and feels the burden of having to keep a roof over the head of herself and her recently unemployed boyfriend. Through chance. Tina is faced with taking a receptionist job in a questionable massage parlour. Unwilling to bend her morals, she refuses and persists in her search for a respectable job. But when that search continues to come up empty and the pressure of paying bills intensifies, Tina returns to the brothel; morals bent. The plot that follows is a paced, smouldering drama that shows the moral decline of a once promising young Taiwanese woman, and the heartbreaking fate of those in our society who fall on hard times. Lu’s inspiration for writing the screenplay came from the bleak prospects she was faced with after graduating and the experiences she witnessed of those around her.
On paper The Receptionist has the potential to be quite chaotic and messy, but what Lu delivers has all the stoicism of a contemporary English drama, and a soundtrack to suit – apart from the opening few scenes where the score holds an whimsical upbeat tempo in kin with the likes of BBC’s Sherlock! Where Lu could of taken the direction of reflecting the Taiwanese characters in the film’s production, she chooses to keep the look and feel of a British film. This is significant in that the story we’re watching isn’t of immigration and the culture of people from different nations but rather the hidden parts of our British society and how the vulnerable are taken advantage of by the corrupt.
Teresa Daley does well to carry the story with her portrayal of Tina, the characteristics of whom have the potential to be annoying if placed in the wrong hands. However, The true star of the film for me is Shiang-chyi Chen who appeared in Hsiang Chienns award winning 2014 film Exit. Chen portrays a hardened character but delivers a depth and complexity, the balance of which is sure to bring Shiang-chyi further attention and notoriety from the industry.
The Receptionist is not the horrifying, exposé documentary that might bring about change for the victims of the sex trade. However, the true talent of this film is to show shocking situations in a drama that isn’t so over the top that it allows you to escape the idea that these things do happen to real people. What Lu achieves to give a voice to those who can’t speak out while representing another facet of the troubles faced by female immigrants in the UK. Those slow burning embers that keep the plot line moving forward throughout will continue to keep the story burning with the audience after the credits roll.
The Receptionist is out Friday 20th July!