China’s rapid modernization has come at a heavy toll to some of its citizens. The clashing between the old ways and the new is bound to create conflict. These juxtapositions are at the center of Cathy Yan’s debut feature Dead Pigs. While she would go on to direct DC & Warner Bros.’ Birds of Prey as a result of this film, it didn’t receive an American release until well after that movie did, which is a shame as it marks a strong start for the filmmaker and immediately marks her out as having a bold and unique voice.
We follow several seemingly disjointed stories that gradually reveal themselves to be inextricably linked. Pig farmer Old Wang (Haoyu Yang) finds himself in crisis after all of his animals mysterious die and his money is lost to an investment scheme. Beauty parlor proprietress Candy (Vivian Wu) puts on a glamourous facade in her shop, but returns to her lonely home, situated in a sea of debris as all the other homes around it have been demolished. Busboy Wang Zhen (Mason Lee) finds himself forming an unexpected bond with dazzling socialite Xia Xia (Meng Li), who finds herself increasingly disenchanted with her lifestyle and supposed friends. American ex-pat Sean Landry (David Rysdahl) is trying to advance in his career working with a development firm while also feeling lost in a foreign land, when he is approached by Angie (Zazie Beetz) with an offer to pose as a wealthy investor to help sell Western-style luxury properties to Chinese citizens.
These types of movies often end with the different characters’ lives colliding but here it is instead revealed that they were all connected to varying degrees well before we first meet them, and it makes for a more satisfying story. Yan shoots her characters and the city of Shanghai in striking shots, often with washes of neon color, making sure even the ugliest moments are beautiful to watch. The cast are all fully committed to their roles, offering up memorable performances that truly bring their characters to life. The denouement winds up feeling a little too pat, but up until then this is a riveting movie that adeptly blends humor and pathos to question the cost of modernity while giving us a look at modern China that we might otherwise never see. ★★★★
NOT RATED. CONTAINS LANGUAGE, MILD VIOLENCE, AND SMOKING.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor