“Dead Pigs” – Floaters [MOVIE REVIEW]

Vivian Wu as Candy Wang and Haoyu Wang as Old Wang in Cathy Yan's "Dead Pigs." Photo courtesy of Film Movement.

Vivian Wu as Candy Wang and Haoyu Wang as Old Wang in Cathy Yan’s “Dead Pigs.” Photo courtesy of Film Movement.

“Dead Pigs” is a head-scratcher of a movie. Cathy Yan, the writer/director, considers this film to be a social satire and in its best moments, it is. But sometimes those moments are few and far between.

Opening on Old Wang (Haoyu Yang) in a Virtual Reality Gallery, he is unpleasant, selfish, and rude—a real pig. How on the nose is it that he is actually a pig farmer? Arriving home from his foray into the city, he is shocked to discover that all of his pigs, his entire livelihood, are dead. This couldn’t come at a worse time because the arrogant and ignorant Old Wang has just made an imprudent investment and owes a lot of money to some really unsavory guys.

Pivoting from the dark, dank pig farm, we next meet Candy Wang (Vivian Wu), a successful entrepreneur of a burgeoning beauty empire whose motto is “There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.” Her shop is all brightly lit pastels with happy employees and even happier customers. When Candy returns home, it is to a dilapidated condemned house that has been in her family for three generations. Shanghai’s rapacious new developers are desperate for her home. It is the last piece of land blocking their development of the new Spanish themed apartment complex that will be built around a copy of the Sagrada Familia of Barcelona. But Candy won’t budge, no matter the price. This is her home; it is her family legacy and when it’s gone, it’s irreplaceable. This, of course, matters little to the businessmen who see only dollar signs. Her refusal to sell at any price is a total mystery to them.

We next meet an aimless young woman who frequents the hippest nightclubs and restaurants. She, like most of her world, is oblivious to those who serve, including the young man who is her waiter. They will have an encounter that will enrich both of them, psychologically speaking.

Tangentially related is a doe-eyed American architect who has designed the Spanish project and must find a way to get Candy to sell.

“Dead Pigs,” a film by Cathy Yan. Photo courtesy of Film Movement.

Yan has made an engaging hodge podge of a film. Ostensibly the unifying action is the mysterious death of pigs all over the countryside and how they have been dumped into the river. But that’s a stretch because ultimately none of the stories quite coalesces and the threads don’t really dovetail until the “ah ha” moment at the very end that underscores the rapacious greed of the oligarchs and their conglomerates in the “new” China.

Trying to tell a story of family and redemption, she has instead given us a rather surreal tale where all of the characters, one way or another, are related either by birth or by goal. It never quite works although her Bollywood touches of out-of-the-blue singing and dancing on at least one occasion and the finale of a very Chinese sing-along at the end are smile-inducing even if they add to the overall incoherency.

The acting is quite good. Vivian Wu as Candy Wang is fully developed and her plight and determination are understandable and draw you in. She represents the importance of family both in heritage and sacrifice. Haoyu Yang (Old Wang) has the most character development but Yan takes him too rapidly from nasty putz to sympathetic loser. The arcs of the other characters are rather vague and are something of a stretch in the overall theme (or at least I assume that’s what it is) of the importance of family.

And then there are the pigs. Other than a nice tie-up at the very end, they just give Yan the opportunity to play “We interrupt this story for a news break” as more and more pigs are found floating in the river.

Truth be told, I was never bored, just confused.

Yan has a great eye, but the release of this film, her debut, which premiered at Sundance in 2018, is probably an effort to capitalize on her reputation as the director of the 2020 DC Comics hit film “Birds of Prey” that starred Margot Robbie.

“Dead Pigs” shows Yan’s great eye for color and movement and character depth. It is a shame that Yan, the very good director, didn’t have more help from Yan, the not-so-good writer.

Opening May 28 in the Laemmle Virtual Cinema and at the South Bay Film Society on June 2 at the AMC Rolling Hills.

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