Dead Pigs: LFF Review

Dead Pigs: LFF Review
Cathy Yan’s entry into the LFF’s First Feature Competition is an absolute delight: a Paul Thomas Anderson-esque surrealist tapestry of interwoven lives set in a rapidly modernising Shanghai. Like Magnolia, its fragmented, jaunty episodes combine and coalesce against a darkly prophetic background, in this case, the mysterious pandemic of dead pigs across the region. The various fable-like storylines: a bumbling pig farmer entranced with a VR headset, a beauty-parlour owner fighting to save her house, an architect from Minnesota working as a Westerner-for-hire at corporate events and suffering from Lost-In-Translation-itis, a sensitive waiter at a pork restaurant infatuated by an icy rich girl, begin to flow together into one multi-faceted story of modernisation. Yan shows us multiple perspectives on a changing city (from different economic positions, cultural perspectives and personal standpoints) to demonstrate that globalisation is not a one-size-fits-all story. Whilst the powerful image of Candy Yang’s family home standing alone amidst a heap of rubble, stubbornly occupied by Yang to keep the bulldozers and cranes from her door, Yang’s clinging to the past is criticised by other more pragmatic characters who find alternative ways to adapt to the present. Candy’s house is the final obstacle to a utopian project by mega-corporation ‘The Golden Happiness Group’ which hilariously aims to build a luxury apartment complex in the style of Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia.

“Original, offbeat and heart-wrenching.”

Yan’s strength is her ability to see the charms and quirks of modernisation at the same time as recognising its habit of bulldozing of ancient traditions, maintaining a tongue-in-cheek tone with a romcom sensibility. It’s a hard balance to strike, but it is done exceedingly well with the help of certain set-pieces: Old Wang’s entire community gathered round in his crumbling house playing at slalom-skiing in a VR headset springs to mind, as does the ludicrously kitsch, yet heart-warming musical finale. The film is exceedingly self-aware. At one point a reporter turns to the camera and exclaims: ‘it’s just like a Hollywood movie!’ Born in China, and raised in the US, Yan’s mixed cultural perspective clearly enables her to see the eccentricities of both cultures without moralising or stereotyping, and prevents her humour from playing at the expense of Asian characters, as Coppola’s LIT is wont to do. Yang’s excellently crafted script is peopled by an ensemble of brilliant character actors with faultless comedic timing. Haoyu Yang in particular is an incredibly endearing screen presence, as is Vivian Wu, playing his bolshy, bird-obsessed sister and Atlanta’s Zazie Beetz as the American headhunter. The Press screening at Soho’s Picturehouse Central burst into hysterical laughter at some of the most bizarre episodes; no mean feat for film-saturated folk on a Tuesday morning. The military-style motivational number performed by Candy’s beauticians was one such moment, as was her ghastly refrain ‘remember, there are no ugly women… just lazy ones!’ Original, offbeat and heart-wrenching all at once, Dead Pigs is an incredible debut feature from a strikingly assured young director. Cathy Yan is definitely one to watch.

4/5

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