Inspired by a real event in 2013 when 16,000 dead pigs start piling up in Shanghai’s mighty Huangpu river, American Chinese director Cathy Yan constructs a tale of corruption, greed, family ties and fakery. It’s a fine piece of film-making that simultaneously entertains while educating.
All her central characters are inextricably linked. First there’s beauty parlour doyenne Candy Wang (Vivian Wu), whose refrain is ‘There are no ugly women, just lazy ones’, and who steadfastly refuses to move out her ancestral home, a splash of blue in a rubble-heap of construction. Golden Happiness, a modern Chinese property company has hired an American architect, Sean (David Rysdahl) to help them build a European development with a faux Sagrada Familia cathedral as its centre piece, as fake as Sean’s credentials. Then there’s Candy’s feckless brother Wang (Haoyu Yang), mired in debt and being pursued by Chinese gangsters whose son Zhen (Mason Lee) works at a restaurant where BBQ pork is the specialty. Here he meets the beautiful but unhappy Xei Xei (Meng Li) who is obsessed with Gucci, cars and money – as is most of modern China. In her case they might be real, but China’s best export is fake designer goods as we all know. Zhen falls under her spell while deceiving his father about his success in the big city. Nothing is what it seems.
The death of Wang’s pigs catapults the gaggle of connected players into crisis with a fight for family values and forgiveness at its fore. Having spent much time in China, the film rings very true with its sweeping views of the past being bridged in one generation, from the rural and simple farmer to the sophisticated internet influencer, with the humble pig being the unifying thread. Well worth watching for clues to the drivers of the new great leap forward.