Jenny Lu shows us the trials of ‘massage’ parlour women in her 2016 drama The Receptionist.
“Do you find that our dreams get smaller as we get older?”
The Receptionist, Jenny Lu’s directorial debut, about immigrant women forced to make a living through illegal ‘massage’ parlours is apparently based off a true story. I don’t know a lot about it – what was kept in the story, left out and dramatised – so to give this a fair review, I’ll treat it as its own thing.
Tina (Teresa Daley) is a Taiwanese literature studies graduate who has recently moved to London to be with her boyfriend, architect student Frank (Josh Whitehouse). However, jobs are not particularly easy to find, due to the recent 2008 economic crisis, and Tina resorts to taking a receptionist job at an illegal massage parlour operating out of a nondescript house in an undisclosed part of London.
There she meets Lily (Sophie Gopsill), the strict, no-nonense madame, as well as the rest of the workers: jaded Sasa (Chen Shiang-chyi), bubbly Mei (Amanda Fan) and the shy newcomer Anna (Teng Shuang). As the weeks go by, she starts to find it difficult to keep her job a secret from her untrusting boyfriend, and she finds herself questioning her morals, as well as her once-naïve worldview.
I really like the way the girls at the parlour were handled as their stories developed. They – especially Lily and Sasa – are shown to be quite intimidating people at first, and while Lily retains that mostly throughout the film, as the story progresses, we see that none of them are any better off or wiser than Tina. Although they put on this air of confidence around their clients, we see how quickly things can go downhill, how much of themselves they have to put out there and how vulnerable they have to make themselves in order to do the jobs they do.
The men in The Receptionist are all shown as violent, stupid and bullheaded – even Frank, who is such a dumb piece of crap it’s unbelievable. I can imagine some people would have a problem with it but I have no quarrels with that. Of course the men in these women’s lives are going to assholes and while even putting the bookshop owner up there with the rest of them might be a bit much, they all help define Tina’s life and views going forward. Some people are monsters. The people they encounter in that line of work think they have power over them, and some act on it. It’s a dark message in a dark film, but one that’s pertinent.
While most of the movie works, there are definitely a few elements that don’t. My least favourite part of the movie was the English language acting, which was fine, but nothing great. Daley and Whitehouse’s interactions were probably one of the weaker elements in the story and I wouldn’t have minded if he was cut from it altogether. I understand how he served the plot, but ultimately there could have been other ways to get the points across. Still, despite its flaws, The Receptionist is a strong film, and an important one in this day and age. If you get a chance, definitely check it out.
Verdict: With a likeable lead, some strong chemistry and a good story, The Receptionist is not perfect, but manages to get its message across ardently.
Overall entertainment: 7/10
Sex: Tastefully hinted at, mostly.
Violence Against Woman: Almost entirely, sadly.
Sisters: Doing it for themselves, mostly.
The Receptionist (2016)
Also known as: 接線員
Director: Jenny Lu
Writer: Jenny Lu, Yeh Yi-wen
Teresa Daley – Tina
Chen Shiang-chyi – Sasa
Amanda Fan – Mei
Sophie Gopsill – Lily
Josh Whitehouse – Frank
Teng Shuang – Anna