By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Dead Pigs may sound like an unusual title for a movie to kick off Chinese New Year on its Victoria Film Festival screening Feb 4th, but it’s a well-meaning work which looks at the idiosyncrasies behind a dysfunctional family trying to survive in a modern China. In Shanghai, Candy Wang (Vivian Wu) and her elder “Old Man Wang” brother (Yang Haoyu) do not see eye to eye over their old family home. It is destined to be torn down because everything else in the old neighbourhood is gone. The Golden Happiness Project claim to improve the lives of everyone, including the impoverished, for the better is falling on a lot of deaf ears–but at what cost? Money cannot buy everything, especially when concerning preserving memories.
This film is multi-layered. It’s one part satire and another part social commentary. The pacing is off at times since the narrative has to bounce between four subplots before it comes together. One huge question raised is in how these characters can better themselves. Only Candy is well-off since she runs a beauty parlour. Old Wang got swindled, and unless he gets money to pay off his debts, he’s in danger of being put six feet under.
The villain of the film is the company and the architect in charge is Sean (David Rysdahl). He is just as disenfranchised. He struggled back in America to make a name for himself and failed. He moved here to restart his life.
The “dead pigs” become more of a metaphor for the decay rotting at each person’s soul. The story is deep, offering lots to think about with these relatable characters. Old Man Wang’s son (Mason Lee, son of famous director Ang Lee) is also not at his best. He’s a waiter who is attracted to Xia Xia (Meng Li), a girl silver spooned for much of her life. Even she realises being spoiled is not for her since happiness is fleeting. Their slowly developing romance helps give this film spirit.
The socio commentary can be missed unless viewers have been there to see the ever-changing landscape of China (not just the outlying areas of Shanghai) trying to modernise. Sometimes, living for yourself is better, as this film demonstrates, but at some point, you have to give to accept being in this century, warts and all, than stuck in the past.
3½ Stars out of 5