Dead Pigs: Film Review

Dead Pigs

Cathy Yan‘s debut feature Dead Pigs received critical acclaim and caught the attention of Margot Robbie when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018 and landed her a blockbuster directing gig in the form of 2020’s Birds of Prey – but then it never got released. Finally, after three years, Dead Pigs is coming out.

The film follows the trials and tribulations of an odd mix of people, as thousands of dead pigs mysteriously float down the river towards Shanghai, something which actually happened in 2013. There’s Xia Xia (Meng Li), who crashes her car after a night out at a restaurant and ends up in hospital; Wang Zhen (Mason Lee), who finds her phone and helps her out while she’s hospitalised and also likes to get into accidents to make money; his father Old Wang (Haoyu Yang), who is up to his neck in debts and his pigs have all mysteriously died; and his sister Candy Wang (Vivian Wu), a prized pigeon-keeping beautician who is refusing to sell her house to a redevelopment company and stays in her property as an act of protest when its the only house still standing in the proposed new site.

Dead Pigs is a darkly funny and quirky social satire which deals with themes such as social change, globalisation, capitalism and the increasing inequality of wealth and employs a random assortment of characters, who are all developed well, thanks to Yan’s impressive screenplay. She makes bizarre choices in places though, for example, a random musical number that comes out of nowhere with singalong lyrics onscreen. What the hell? I was so baffled by this decision.

The most interesting storyline was Candy Wang, a beauty parlour owner who refuses to leave her home in case it gets knocked down, like the rest of her old neighbourhood. The Golden Happiness company are confident she will sell at the right price, considering she is now surrounded by rubble, but she cannot be bought – she was born and raised in that house and it has sentimental value, whereas her brother is a sad pathetic drunk who begs her to sell to help him out of his hole. Zazie Beetz also has a small and inconsequential appearance, so don’t be mislead into thinking she “stars” in this, because she really doesn’t.

Dead Pigs is a real mixed bag and a bit too long, so it didn’t completely gel for me, but it’s a strong debut feature from Yan – I’m not surprised she got hired for a big-budget movie (one on a whole other level in terms of scale) off the back of it.

Released globally (except China) on MUBI on Friday 12th February

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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