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Managing to keep sex under the radar

''SEX. Shagging. Making love. Whatever you want to call it, everyone does it. But no one does it more than us Chinese.''

So begins Red Light Revolution, China's first ''sex shop comedy'', now available to Australians via iTunes after being unveiled in January by the Chinese website Tudou, where it has clocked more than 3 million views. And the director? Australian filmmaker Sam Voutas.

''China's censorship rules pertaining to cinema releases don't extend online yet,'' Voutas says of his film's web-based launch.

''I don't know how long that's going to last, but it creates an interesting opportunity for us.''

So how did a 32-year-old Australian director come to be making movies in China? ''I wanted to go to somewhere with a large film industry,'' Voutas says of the time following his graduation from the Victorian College of the Arts. ''I can't sing or dance so Bollywood was out, and I didn't want to join the hoards getting off the Greyhounds in LA.''

Inspired by Australian cinematographer Chris Doyle (In the Mood for Love), Voutas turned his attention to China.


''The movie that really started getting things going for me here was City of Life and Death, directed by Lu Chuan,'' he says. ''I auditioned for that in 2007 and got a role. Since then I've been working on a lot of independent Chinese films and TV - often as an actor but also as a cameraman or editor. In the film world, if you only wear one hat you're going to be waiting for the phone to ring.''

Between gigs, the budding director fished for script ideas and found himself drawn to the sex shops on every street corner in Beijing.

''I went to one of the first sex shops near Tiananmen Square … it was like a pharmacy - people were wearing lab coats!'' he says.

Intrigued by the change that has made sex shops ubiquitous, Voutas penned a comedy about a hapless Beijing cabbie who loses his job, wife and home in one nightmare day. Reduced to hawking diet tea, he decides to open a sex shop.

Full of ribald humour and bawdy Beijing slang, Red Light Revolution has been a hit on China's unofficial screening circuit.

''We'll screen in rock venues that seat around 200 people, but we'll also do small cafes that can only fit 50,'' Voutas says.

''Our blow-up doll Candy flies with me everywhere and we do a Q&A afterwards. In Shanghai we gave out free sex toys, and a local restaurant made sushi in the shape of body organs. We try to make it an event.''

Success on the underground circuit resulted in Tudou, the Chinese equivalent of YouTube, releasing the film online in the lead-up to Chinese New Year.

Many user comments focused on Tudou's gutsy decision to push an uncensored film.

''The censorship board in Beijing has enormous control,'' Voutas says. ''Imagine Animal Kingdom rewritten by the Gillard government.''

Red Light hit cinemas this year in Canada and Britain, making Australian indifference all the more puzzling. So far no local festival or distributor has shown an interest.

Meantime, he has a Chinese online audience of 500 million.