Dead Pigs Review

Dead Pigs
Thousands of pigs are dying and floating down the river in Shanghai, and no-one knows why. The curious incident affects the interlinking lives of a pig farmer (Haoyu Yang), a salon owner (Vivian Wu), a waiter (Mason Lee), an expat architect (David Rysdahl) and a bored rich girl (Meng Li).  

by Ella Kemp |
Updated on
Release Date:

12 Feb 2021

Original Title:

Dead Pigs

Last year, everybody wanted to know who Cathy Yan was. The DC Extended Universe had just been given a gutsy makeover with Harley Quinn’s solo outing Birds Of Prey, and Yan was the director to thank. She had made just one feature before — a fizzy social satire called Dead Pigs. Those lucky enough to catch the film at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival — where it premiered before being released in China — wouldn’t have been surprised by the high-octane success of Birds Of Prey. But for the rest of us? Watching Dead Pigs in 2021, thanks to a belated streaming release, feels like travelling back to the future: this story is new, but we already know how good Yan’s own journey continues to be.

Dead Pigs

The filmmaker sets her sights on a strange event from 2013, in which over 16,000 dead pigs really did float down Shanghai’s Huangpu River. Except Yan isn’t interested in a whodunnit — the pigs here are the catalyst for throwing a society’s life into disarray, which we follow through the eyes of five key people.

It’s bursting at the seams with wise ideas about working hard to make, and protect, the world you want for yourself.

These people — the farmer, the salon owner, the waiter, the architect and the rich girl — are all at the mercy of a capitalist world, bound together by the economic and societal crises caused by the mysterious murders. The death of these pigs puts pig farmer Old Wang (Haoyu Yang) in financial trouble. His son Wang Zhen (Mason Lee, son of Ang), a hardworking waiter, endangers his life to try and send him more money. The farmer’s sister, vain but savvy beauty parlour owner Candy Wang (Vivian Wu), refuses to sell their family home to lend him more cash. Her house is the last building standing in the way of American architect Sean Landry’s (David Rysdahl) project to bulldoze a rural part of Shanghai to erect a new apartment complex that, for some reason, will recreate Barcelona’s most emblematic hotspots. And rich girl Xia Xia (Meng Li), after striking up a friendship with Wang Zhen, quickly realises that money can’t buy happiness (who knew?) and is trying to live with both the boredom and the guilt.

The complex network narrative could run out of steam in lesser hands, but Yan keeps things sharp with a witty script, and a vibrant aesthetic language that came to define Birds Of Prey. Neat sound cues and spontaneous musical numbers are lively but never twee; bars soaked in magenta and a decrepit house painted turquoise feel like Yan’s own warpaint colours.

Dead Pigs speaks to everyone trying to keep pace in a society always chasing the next big thing. It’s about a city torn between legacy and modernity, where a young Chinese woman who loves the 2006 Channing Tatum dance movie Step Up needs to find her value just as much as an insecure American architect asked to build a brand-new Sagrada Familia in the middle of the countryside. It’s bursting at the seams with wise ideas about working hard to make, and protect, the world you want for yourself. As time has proven, Yan is more than capable of rising to the challenge. All she asks is that we keep up.

A bold social satire that never loses its sense of fun, Dead Pigs finally lets us confirm what Birds Of Prey already suggested: Cathy Yan has a sharp eye and a fearless voice — we’re lucky to have her.  
Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us