SXSW Film Review: People's Republic of Desire

The rise and fall of two Chinese webcam celebs

In China, the online video platform YY connects over 300 million users with online stars, many of them having rags-to-riches stories that frame them as more personable to their fans.

In People’s Republic of Desire, director Hao Wu takes us inside this virtual world where lollipops are a type of currency and an annual competition could mean life or death to your $200K monthly salary.

Shen Man and Big Li are the documentary’s subjects, the people of desire. They’re slaves to their fans, locked to their desktops that give hungry viewers, from poor part-time workers to wealthy CEOs, a glimpse into their personal lives. But nothing is truly personal. With their webcam, they give fans their complete devotion, wasting their youth in bedrooms wailing to popular karaoke tunes. Outside their direct families, they have no real relationships. Shen Man hustles for money so her father and stepmother can live worry free, while Big Li’s wife is also his manager, and together they bring in dollars to support their newborn son.

People’s Republic of Desire shows the decay of these stars’ lives, from sex scandals to divorce, but for a documentary that intends to show how nothing is private for these two online celebrities, it only skims the surface of their aspirations. As you watch Big Li crying while singing, “But do I have to wait ’til I’m 60, to search for my dream of freedom,” you can’t help but yearn to know more about the film’s pitiable subjects, thus transforming you into one of the voyeurs that have wrecked Shen Man and Big Li’s lives.

People's Republic of Desire

Documentary Feature Competition, World Premiere
Wednesday, March 14, 5:30pm, Alamo Lamar A

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SXSW Film 2018, Hao Wu, People's Republic of Desire

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