Story Details

Cathy Yan's Small World of Dead Pigs (2018)

Posted By themoviesleuth 1135 days ago on Entertainment - On May 28th 1966, Walt Disney hosted 36 officials, hundreds of journalists and 16 children from around the world for the opening ceremony of the “It’s A Small World” attraction in Disneyland. The international event culminated with each of the children pouring a vial of water from the world’s “seven seas and nine major lagoons” into the ride’s river, with Walt Disney adding water from the Rivers of America. Originally designed by Disney for Pepsi-Cola’s 1964 World’s Fair pavilion as a salute to UNICEF and the children of the world, the attraction’s opening ceremony is a perfect symbol of the idealism behind the post war drive towards a globalized economy.Fast forward fifty-plus years and the realities of globalization have been less than ideal. Since 1980, China has seen a significant shift from a planned economy to a market economy. Although this has resulted in tremendous economic growth for the nation, it has also sparked fears of a loss of culture and history. Cathy Yan’s (Birds of Prey) first feature film Dead Pigs (2018) is a micro view of this tension between growth and history, exploring how economic expansion makes our world smaller.Based on the real-life Huangpu River incident, Dead Pigs follows five individuals as they try to reconcile their lives with the rapidly changing city, all while an increasing number of dead pigs begin floating down the river. The film begins with stylist Candy Wang (Vivian Wu) returning home after a day of running a salon to a bright blue house in the middle of an expansive amount of rubble. Candy is the last hold out in a now demolished neighborhood fighting off a constant barrage of developers trying to buy her out of her home.  The new planned complex is the work of aspiring architect and US expat Sean Landry (David Rysdahl) who is hoping to make it big in a growing market that fetishizes European culture. Meanwhile, Candy’s brother Old Wang (Haoyu Yang) is trying to hide that he has not only lost his life savings to an investment scam, but the pigs on his farm are dying off for an unknown reason. After an unsuccessful attempt at borrowing money from his sister, Old Wang reaches out to his son Wang Zhen (Mason Lee) for help, who is facing his own class struggle as he romantically pursues the wealthy Xia Xia (Meng Li). Dead Pigs focuses on the theme of success ideation and the inevitable disillusionment associated with it. The free market globalized economic model sells a less than honest picture of the benefits that come with a western consumer-driven society. Each character in the film is one part of the full spectrum of reactions to the dysfunction of this new modern world. Candy and Old Wang stand as polar opposites of the older generation representing defiance and engulfment, as they watch the world they know disappear. Xia Xia and Wang Zhen are the two sides of this new class system coin, both of which are somewhat lonely and empty. Lastly, there is Sean who is struggling to navigate objectification and racism. Although debuting at Sundance in 2018, Dead Pigs has gone largely unseen by anyone outside industry screening access until recently. This is mostly due to distributors being nervous about a lack of marketability, which is a tragedy. Yan’s freshman film is charmingly warm and lighthearted in spite of the subject matter. The dialogue feels rich and authentic making all five of the main characters empathetic. Viewers do not need to be familiar with the minute details in Chinese culture in order to grasp many of the nuances in the script. The double-edged sword of benefits and consequences of globalization are universal and drive home the film’s feeling of world becoming increasingly smaller. Furthermore, Dead Pigs does not make a lecture out of the serious subject matter. The ending of the film is more in line with Walt Disney’s “It’s A Small World” than the scathing eye sometimes associated with Art House films. This combination seems odd but it works. We are all connected in an ever-shrinking world in simultaneous joy and dysfunction and any film lover should connect with this journey. Dead Pigs is now available via virtual cinema. -Dawn Stronski

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