- Allan Hunter
- 16 July 2018
Quietly moving drama looking at the plight of migrant workers, from Jenny Lu
The plight of the migrant worker is addressed with good intentions and some solid insight in the micro-budget UK-Taiwanese drama The Receptionist. Jenny Lu's promising debut feature is inspired by true events and strives to present a low-key, naturalistic portrayal of women faced by stark choices as they seek to build a new life in Britain.
Recent literature graduate Tina (Teresa Daley) is living with her white English boyfriend Frank (Josh Whitehouse). In a country mired in recession, they have to consider all possibilities. Tina reluctantly answers an advert for a job as a receptionist at a massage parlour near Heathrow airport. Inevitably, the establishment is actually a brothel and just as inevitably Tina needs the work.
Tina is now employed by Chinese madame Lily (Sophie Gopsill) whose girls include Mei (Amanda Fan), single parent Sasa (Chen Shiang-chyi), and newcomer Anna (Shuang Teng) who has become the breadwinner for her family and is desperate to send money home to clear their debts.
Lu doesn't shy away from what is expected from the girls, the demands of the variegated clients and the stoic resignation with which the sex workers accept their fate. The film is at its most persuasive in depicting the growing sense of solidarity that develops between them. Gopsill is a force to be reckoned with as Lily and Chen effectively conveys the weary, hard-bitten veteran Sasa.
The Receptionist may contain few surprises. The narrative is predictable, the pacing measured and the characterisation tends towards the thinly sketched rather than the fully developed. In the end, it is still quietly moving in the way it reflects a country in crisis, where outsiders are unwelcome and easily exploited and class is no protection against the chill winds of austerity.
Selected release from Fri 20 Jul.