Dead Pigs


Reviewed by: Stephanie Brown

Dead Pigs
"The cinematography of Dead Pigs is consistently picturesque, even during the most melancholic moments." | Photo: Frederico Cesca

Cathy Yan’s Dead Pigs constructs a cinematic anthology - mirroring Jim Jarmusch’s tales-of-the-city style filmography, to tell the intertwining stories of those living through social modernisation in Shanghai. Yan manages to digest the dyad of traditionalist culture’s unsure footing within late capitalist ideology with an equally upbeat and sombre flair.

We see the stories of a man in financial trouble in the wake of the death of his pig stock and a collapsed investment, a woman refusing to leave her family home, which is being knocked down for gentrification purposes, and a troubled young man in love with a wealthy woman, who both fail to understand the different worlds they encompass. As the stories progress we see how these character’s stories become linked interpersonally, and within the ever-changing city.

Dead Pigs opens in a thematically foreboding way, we are introduced to Haoyu Yang’s character as he buys a virtual reality set, mesmerised by the abilities the technology has to immerse people into the setting and scenario. Shortly after, he is met with a pack of dead pigs that have died mysteriously and without clear explanation. Yan does well to introduce these subtle juxtapositions in the character developments that mirror the growth of Shanghai and the people it will inevitably leave behind. It becomes clear from the onset that Yang’s character’s brush with the new world he longs to be a part is limited before it even begins.

The cinematography of Dead Pigs is consistently picturesque, even during the most melancholic moments, such as Candy’s home being demolished. The colour palette reflects the beauty and calmness of the rural backdrop of Shanghai. It almost seems like Yan is aligning and colliding the utopian illusions of capitalism and modernisation with the bleak realities that the system was never built to account for everyone, asking the question that we often fail to centralise: is society programmed to perceive those on the fringe of these systems dispensable?

Yang and Vivian Wu’s performances are nothing less than stellar. But the main problem this inevitably extends is that it becomes difficult to become engrossed in the other characters' journeys when their relationship and conflicts dominate the focus of the film, purely from the chemistry they both manage to radiate as a brother and sister with a complex and frayed relationship, but one that meanders through the similarities in the difficulties they both seem to face. They dominate the lens, from the way the characters feed and develop from each other, with a genuine humanity that is rare to see on screen.

Yan’s film is a mesmerising piece of cinema, that is as captivating as it is pure. She may have become a household name from her place in DC cinema with Birds Of Prey, but Dead Pigs most certainly displays her talent and versatility as a writer, director and all-round storyteller who is set to put her own stamp on modern cinema.

Reviewed on: 08 Mar 2021
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Dead Pigs packshot
An ambitious pig farmer, sentimental salon owner, struggling busboy, and a wealthy young woman become intertwined during the social modernisation of Shanghai.

Director: Cathy Yan

Writer: Cathy Yan

Starring: Zazie Beetz, Vivian Wu, Mason Lee, David Rysdahl, Meng Li, Haoyu Yang

Year: 2018

Runtime: 130 minutes

Country: US, China

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