Dead Pigs review: Birds of Prey director Cathy Yan delivers ‘charming’ first feature

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Despite premiering at Sundance Film Festival in 2018 and being released in China the following year, it has taken years for Dead Pigs to be released around the rest of the globe.

The film is the feature debut of Chinese-American director Cathy Yan who would go on to direct the critically acclaimed DC Comics outing Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) last year.

Now Dead Pigs is finally available to watch it is easy to see why Warner Bros. Studios chose Yan to deliver the first solo outing for Margot Robbie's anti-heroine Harley Quinn.

Inspired by a real-life incident of numerous dead pigs washing up in the Huangpu River in 2013, Yan's first film is set in and around the sprawling and futuristic city of Shanghai and its more impoverished outskirts.

Following five central figures, Yan weaves curiously engrossing plot threads that slowly become further intertwined.

(Front, left to right) Haoyu Yang, Vivian Wu, and Mason Lee star in Cathy Wan's Dead Pigs
(Image: MUBI)

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Old Wang (Haoyu Yang) is struggling in poverty and ambitiously decides to invest in farming pigs before it goes horribly wrong, as his sister and beauty salon owner Candy Wang (Vivian Wu) resists the attempts of a powerful property developer to knock down their long-standing family home which she refuses to give up despite it being surrounded by rubble.

Elsewhere, Old Wang's son Zhen (Mason Lee) is living a difficult life as a waiter in the city and avoiding honest conversations with his father.

Zhen also crosses paths with rich party girl Xia Xia (Meng Li) and the pair strike up a sweet connection.

Zhen (Mason Lee) enjoys an awkward dinner with father Old Wang (Haoyu Yang) in Dead Pigs
(Image: MUBI)

David Rysdahl stars as adrift American architect Sean in Dead Pigs
(Image: MUBI)

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Finally, ambitious American architect Sean (David Rysdahl) hides his own pitfalls as he attempts to find his own way in a new city and engineer success with his planned tourist attraction on Candy's land.

With a vivid style full of colour, naturalism, and a keen awareness of her surroundings, Yan crafts an often amusing, human, and memorable examination of a city in flux.

The tall shimmering skyline of the futuristic inner city glows in neon colours, while the grey struggling suburban areas are just as vividly realised, highlighting the vast wealth inequality at play.

The neon and futuristic skyline of Shanghai is prominent within the film
(Image: MUBI)

The harsh surroundings of Candy's house as it comes under threat
(Image: MUBI)

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The characters are also of differing social class and are embracing their backgrounds in different ways, questioning their places in a changing world that is vastly growing globalised. The feeling of isolation but also humour is evident in Andrew Orkin's soothing score.

To some these themes and the rather loose connection of dead pigs floating down the waters that flow through the city may not be enough to tie the stories together, but its resolution is individual, outlandish, and ultimately satisfying.

The run time may be a bit too long and the proceedings could ultimately run more tightly together, but Yan keeps the film alive with the wonderfully magnetic performances – particularly from Vivian Wu – and her own witty script.

Zhen also crosses paths with rich party girl Xia Xia (Meng Li) in Dead Pigs
(Image: MUBI)

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Ultimately, Dead Pigs is another assured example of Yan's talent as a filmmaker and a fresh cinematic voice.

Verdict

Dead Pigs is a charming, quirky, and unique directorial debut from Cathy Yan and is another sign of her promising future in cinema.

Dead Pigs is available on MUBI UK from February 12, 2021.

Were you a fan of Cathy Yan's Birds of Prey? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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