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The People’s Republic of Desire – Fantasia Fest 2018

The peril of fame and fortune is a common theme among storytellers but now with the onset of the internet, there’s a new chapter to be told. The People’s Republic of Desire is a documentary that follows the tale of two popular live streamers as they trek through the scandalous and treacherous world of internet stardom. The documentary takes place in China and discusses YY which is a social media platform that focuses on live streaming. Many people called “hosts” have decided to take a career in live streaming. It has become such a lucrative and intricate business that the documentary opens up with a board meeting of hosts. From that point, we then follow Shen Man and Big Li for little over a year. They both are or were two of the most popular live streamers of the time and we witness their many trials and tribulations.

Documentaries are always fascinating because they follow people for so long that they tend to forget about the cameras and will often reveal very personal details. Through Shen Man and Big Li, we see how extravagant their lives are but also how isolating. They complain about the disconnect from everyone and what is required to maintain their precarious status. There are quite a few very intimate moments with them that are profoundly heartfelt. We learn about their impoverished pasts and their peculiar relationships with their families. Shen Man is forced to care for her whole family while Big Li is constantly urged to succeed by his small town while also tending to neglect his family. Aside from Shen Man and Big Li, we also look at the people related to them such as spouses, parents, fans, and investors. Through their stories, we see how the social hierarchy led to the popularity of streamers and how it can be manipulated for financial gain.

Honestly. it’s difficult to discuss this film without getting into sociology and economic theory. It’s obvious the filmmakers want to convey the societal structure of China and the impact of the YY platform. We see how the lower-class primarily make up the majority of the fanbase and how the smaller wealthier class uses money as a means to influence the hosts. It is referenced as a love triangle in the documentary but things become even more complicated when agencies get involved. The ultimate goal for any host and their affiliates is this annual YY event where winners are picked according to how much money is raised for them.

This documentary has a lot to say and it does it pretty well. From the beginning, it’s very obvious the level of skill and creativity that just went into the editing. Every time one of the live streamers broadcasts, we are then transported into a virtual audience of little icons and graphics. The live streamer appears in a little box on a stage and the audience of icons who are actually real-life fans chime in by sending messages. At times they will also send gifts aka money. It’s a fun little idea and very symbolic of what is going on. Besides, it’s better than just watching people in front of computer screens. Though, much of the film is still that.

The People’s Republic of Desire is very insightful and presents a profuse amount of content within a short period. Seeing the influence YY and it’s live streamers really brings to light the power of social media and the effects on society from the intimate to its totality.

The People’s Republic of Desire is one of many films being presented at Fantasia Fest 2018.


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