Dead Pigs (2018)

Dead Pigs
Director: Cathy Yan
Writer: Cathy Yan
Cast: Vivian Wu, Haoyu Yang, Mason Lee, Meng Li, David Rysdahl, Zazie Beetz
Seen on: 4.4.2021

Candy Wang (Vivian Wu) runs a hairsalon and owns the last house in the neighborhood she grew up in. Everything else was torn down to make way for a large building project helmed by architect Sean Landry (David Rysdahl). Candy’s brother Old Wang (Haoyu Yang) is a pig farmer in constant money trouble. Now more so than ever, because his pigs have mysteriously died, just like most of the pigs in the area. Those dead pigs start floating down Shanghai river because nobody knows what else to do with them. Meanwhile Wang’s son Wang Zhen (Mason Lee) works in the city as a busboy, hoping to make a better life for himself and maybe catch the attention of his rich customer Xia Xia (Meng Li).

Dead Pigs rolls a lot of criticism into a protective layer of jokes that make its critical stance look surprisingly light, but not necessarily soft. It’s a bittersweet, very engaging film.

The film poster showing two piggy banks, one shattered with very little money inside.

The central characters in these are Candy and Old Wang, while Zhen and Xia Xia take a backseat. While the latter’s story is sweet, I don’t think I would have missed much if it hadn’t been there, especially since there is not enough time and space to give it much depth. In any case, Candy and Old Wang is where it’s at and I loved both of them, especially Candy (perfectly played by Vivian Wu).

She is such a great character, all tough and proper, but also sentimental and so very stubborn. Things have to be just so for her – both in her shop, where the attendants synchronize in speech and movements, and in her home where she seems to follow the same strict routine always. But ultimately her refusal to sell is all about clinging to home, where things have a history, where they are still real.

Wang Zhen (Mason Lee) at a café with his father Old Wang (Haoyu Yang).

Because all around Candy, nothing seems to be real anymore. Old Wang loses his money in fake investments schemes and spends it on VR. Zhen pretends that he is successful to his father, while Xia Xia pretends to be happy. The real estate project that Sean develops includes a copy of the Sagrada Familia. And Sean himself is approached by Angie (the breathtakingly beautiful Zazie Beets) to take on roles in various ceremonies just because he is white and can give them a Western glow. Is it any wonder that Candy wants to keep everything that has a history?

But reality also means the pig farmers not being able to afford to properly dispose of their dead pigs, or Zhen sharing a small room with three other guys, all hoping to make it big in the city and get a part of the capitalist promises. And it means that Xia Xia’s wealth can’t make up for bad consequences of her bad decisions. So, maybe there is something to be said for the fakeness of it all as well.

Sean Landry (David Rysdahl), Old Wang (Haoyu Yang), Candy Wang (Vivian Wu) and Wang Zhen (Mason Lee) all looking up at something.

Summarizing: really excellent.

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