Hot Docs review: People’s Republic Of Desire

Documentary illustrates the benefits and costs of online fame in China


PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF DESIRE (Hao Wu, U.S.). 94 minutes. Rating: NNNN


Ordinary people becoming famous online is nothing new, but in China it’s become both an art form and a lucrative business model. A live-streaming site called YY allows young people called “diaosi” (a slang term for socially isolated losers, which they may or may not be trying to reclaim) to log on, perform on their webcams and solicit cash “gifts” from online patrons. An annual competition determines the network’s biggest star.

Director Hao Wu follows two of the top contenders, singer Shen Man and comic Big Li, over two years, during which their fortunes rise and fall on the whims of their followers. For putting herself into the public sphere, 21-year-old Shen endures constant misogynistic abuse – including a prostitution scandal – while Li enjoys a much easier ride.

The doc occasionally feels like it’s overplaying its cutting-edge subject matter, with Wu employing busy CG animation to represent YY’s virtual arena. That’s a distraction from its real focus: the desire to be seen, and how that desire can be monetized (and even weaponized) by companies out to make a buck at any cost.

April 28, 9 pm, Hart House April 30, 3 pm, Scotiabank 4 May 5, 6:15 pm, Revue

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