King of Peking
China / Australia. 2017. 87 min
Set in the countryside of late 1990s China, the film tells the story of a father (Jun Zhao) who goes to great lengths to scrape together the cash for alimony payments, the only way his ex will allow him to maintain custody of their son. Taking advantage of the absurd comedy that tragedy can produce, the father turns to bootlegging the films of the theatre he plunges toilets in. With the help of his kid, the projectionist, turned janitor, turned counterfeiter, give cheap flicks to their community, which they devour intently.
The film sets the stage with the opening of a burgundy velvet curtain, uses the omniscient narrator voice, and includes chapters, splitting each section into delectable bites. The soundtrack, extracted from classic Hollywood flicks, gives magnificence to the humble landscape, and the color palette has a lush quality that matches the magic of cinematic projected light. The humor is relatable, and has an ease and style the likes of which can be seen in Bottle Rocket, while the relationship between father and son recalls the marvelous con artists of Paper Moon.
An homage not only to film, and film aficionados, King of Peking is also a tribute to those silly little moments in life that make it worth remembering. It speaks to the act of creation, cause and effect, choice and consequence. This is a wonderful tale showing what perseverance, love, and a lil’ ghetto rigging can do.
Sam Voutas is an Australian actor and independent filmmaker. He is best known for writing and directing Red Light Revolution, China’s “first sex shop comedy” which was nominated for Best Unproduced Screenplay at the 2008 Australian Inside Film Awards, showcased at The Santa Barbara International Film Festival and won the audience award at The Terracotta Far East Film Festival. Voutas played Durdin in Lu Chuan’s acclaimed City of Life and Death, a Chinese film about The Rape of Nanjing. The film won Best Director (Lu Chuan) and Best Cinematographer (Cao Yu) Awards at the 4th Asian Film Awards in 2010. Voutas wrote and directed the documentary The Last Breadbox, featuring Beijing taxi drivers in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games.
Red Light Revolution was originally written in English, translated into Chinese, then that version was re-translated to reflect the Beijing slang hua. It was released in China on Tudou in 2011, with producer Melanie Ansley commenting that “We wanted to make a film that might have challenged censors, and if that was the case we were shutting ourselves off from television and cinema. I think the internet offers a place for stuff that takes a little more risk.” It won the People’s Choice Award at the Singapore International Film Festival’s Silver Screen Awards in 2011.
Voutas has spoken in interviews about film censorship in China, saying “I’d love to keep making movies [in China], my dilemma is whether a script can be passed by the censors without having its wings clipped. My fear is that increasingly censors are the directors of films, and that directors and producers, fearing cuts, then self-censor themselves from the get-go. That’s an environment that isn’t too conducive to creativity in general. So perhaps my next film will be about censors themselves and the final cut will run exactly zero seconds long.”
Sam Voutas : firstname.lastname@example.org