The Receptionist

Like a low-budget Dirty Pretty Things, Jennifer Lu’s drama lifts a curtain on the underbelly of London life. 

Through the story of Tina, a Taiwanese graduate who comes to London but can only get a job at a massage parlour on a suburban street. She manages to maintain her dignity by just answering the phone but soon gets drawn into the lives of the girls and Madame Lily as they welcome clients and deal with loan sharks, landlords and suspicious neighbours.

It’s a fascinating watch, empathetic but dramatic, heartbreaking yet tough, looking at female resilience and economic exigence, the relentless grind and demands of modern global life forcing people into crushing situations.

Lu’s skill is to balance documentary inquiry with sometimes shocking drama and to keep it all real, believable and emotionally engaging. It’s a feat she accomplishes, in a highly unusual contribution to the London film scene, shot mostly in Mandarin but very much capturing a contemporary London one suspects is there but which we chose to ignore, one scarcely hidden, with only a net curtain as disguise.