Review: Viva Erotica

Written and directed by Derek Yee and Lo Chi-leung, a struggling director is offered the opportunity to direct a Cat-III film to revive his career. Torn between artistic integrity and financial troubles, he also has to deal with his jealous girlfriend and keep his gangster financiers happy. Starring: Leslie Cheung, Karen Mok, Shu Qi, Ching Wan Lau, Paul Chun, Kar-Ying Law, Elvis Tsui and Anthony Chau-Sang Wong.

One of the most impressive things about Viva Erotica is that for a film which revolves around sex, it doesn’t feel the least bit sleazy or grimy. In fact it actually has a great independent spirit and feels very much in the vein of films inspired by the love of filmmaking. Another solid trait is that where so many of those films revolve around high-maintenance, pretentious, over-confident and tyrannical men, their struggling director Sing (Leslie Cheung) is relatable and sympathetic. Those few factors are a lot to do with why this story works, starting out digging into artistic integrity but evolving into the crew becoming a family and together, trying to create something great. It deals with the concept of not throwing all your ideals out the window in favour of commercial success well, Sing makes compromises but tries to creatively bring in a more genuine touch.

Each of those elements also feed into the direction which handles the seedier side to this story well. Derek Yee and Lo Chi-leung bring in a dose of surrealism, as well as giving it a comic side. There’s a great sense of humour at work throughout, which truly helps to ground the film. It has a mix of different styles reflecting different moments, within its realm of porn there’s a lot more colour and movement but it slows down when it’s brought back to reality. It dips into the classic retrospection of filmmakers, moving flawlessly from moment to memory and back again. It’s paced really well and is surprisingly engaging. It captures the typical heart of low-budget indie cinema but with extra nudity and sex thrown in. Although it’s not used gratuitously which is another big help to keeping a more genuine feel.

Leslie Cheung gives a superb performance, capturing a dedicated filmmaker but one that’s willing to learn and be flexible to continue his career. He’s flawed but in a very natural and relatable way, people can’t always make the right decision at every turn. There’s also a fantastic support team throughout the film, a mix of different personalities who all have something to add. Shu Qi portrays an interesting role, initially bringing us an intensely stereotypical persona but it evolves into something much more compelling, which is unexpected. The whole cast is full of energy and they create a family connection between them which, by the end, is quite touching.

Viva Erotica throws any typical expectation you have out of the window. It’s not dripping in sleaze or throwing sex and nudity in your face, it creates a genuine story about filmmaking. Yes, it does still have a fair amount of both, but they’re used sparingly and serve the story. Derek Yee and Lo Chi-leung put a surprising amount of heart into this project, it’s engaging and fun with a really enjoyable sense of humour. There’s a variety to its style, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it feels like a brilliant example of indie cinema.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

Limited Edition Blu-ray Exclusively Available from Vinegar Syndrome September 27th

Special Features include: ★ High definition presentation ★ Interview with director Lo Chi-leung ★ Commentary by film scholar Brian Hu and journalist Ada Tseng of the podcast “Saturday School” ★ Booklet with new writing by Ross Chen ★ New art by Derek Gabryszak & Leo Mak

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