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Big Shot's Funeral
"I love your son on that '24' TV show!"       

(left) Donald Sutherland and Ge You confer in Big Shot's Funeral, (right) Rosamund Kwan.
Chinese: 大腕
Year: 2001
Director: Feng Xiaogang
Producer: He Ping, Wang Zhongjun, Tong Gang, Huang Jian-Xin, Chen Kuo-Fu, Han San-Ping
Writer: Feng Xiaogang, Shih Kang, Li Xiaoming
Cast: Ge You, Rosamund Kwan Chi-Lam, Donald Sutherland, Ying Da, Paul Mazursky, Wang Baoqiang
The Skinny: Feng Xiaogang directs this satirical comedy poking fun at the intrusion of capitalism in modern Chinese society. The film itself is somewhat scattershot, and many of the gags will likely fly over the heads of some, but on the whole this is a delightful, intelligent alternative to most forms of Chinese comedy (like Wong Jing).
   
Review
by Kozo:

Yoyo (Ge You) is a down-on-his-luck cameraman who gets hired for a job and gets more than he bargained for. He's supposed to follow around legendary American director Don Tyler (Donald Sutherland), who's in the Forbidden City filming a remake of The Last Emperor. However, Tyler is creatively empty, and wastes time and money on the set. With investor concern mounting, Tyler is fired from the picture by his longtime friend (Paul Mazursky), whereupon he goes into a massive depression and ultimately a coma. Things don't look good for him, and his death is an almost assured outcome.

However, Tyler had a final request. Having formed a quirky, unlikely friendship with Yoyo, Tyler asks the cameraman to prepare a "comedy funeral" for him. Tyler had a fascination with the practice of feel-good Chinese funerals which are given for the elderly, as those funerals celebrated long life and not the onset of death. Yoyo agrees, and enlists his friend, promoter Louie Wang (Ying Da), to set things up. They plan a massive, glitzy production set in the Forbidden City, which will feature all sorts of tacky pop-culture acts and displays—thereby granting Tyler's wish of a "comedy funeral."

A catch exists, though. Tyler, Yoyo and Tyler's loyal assistant Lucy (Rosamund Kwan) are all dead-broke. As the costs of the funeral spiral out of control, Yoyo and Louie come up with a plan to sell advertising space at the funeral. Before they know it, they have brand names and upstart companies all vying for space. The pair even resort to selling adspace on Tyler's corpse, which is a total gas as Tyler isn't officially dead yet. It's assumed that he will die, but if he doesn't then bad things could happen.

Director Feng Xiaogang loads his film with lots of cultural references and asides to the politcal/commercial climate of China which make it exceptionally funny. There is a definite laugh factor in adspace being sold for a funeral, just as there is in a Triad spring water company bullying Yoyo for a place on the sponsor list. The issue of money becomes paramount to everything, including even the death of a supposed international treasure. At the same time, Yoyo is portrayed as an oddball advertising genius, who's willing to sell Tyler's death in the interests of "comedy", but won't allow a DVD maker airtime because their product helps violate intellectual property. It's these sorts of bizarre yet strangely believable antics which help make Big Shot's Funeral a winning satire.

On the other hand, the film has more standard problems, like narrative sense and consistent acting. Once Louie and Yoyo start selling advertisting space, the film really begins to take off, but the eventual fallout of the funeral isn't handled in a satisfying way. The events in Big Shot's Funeral seem to lead up to a definite, almost necessary point, which is: what wil happen at the funeral? Will they pull it off? And will Tyler recover in time to wreck everything? These questions provide a great deal of suspense to the proceedings, but not everything is resolved. As a result, the expected payoff never occurs, and we're left with feel-good platitudes that really amount to little.

Furthermore, the acting is somewhat spotty. Donald Sutherland provides great presence as Tyler, but his acting is more than a little hammy. Rosamund Kwan looks great, but is dubbed in every conceivable language, thus rendering her performance rather distant. Thankfully, most of the film hangs on Ge You, who turns in a funny, opaque performance as Yoyo. It's his off-kilter sensibilities which drive Big Shot's Funeral, and the friendship between he and Tyler is genuinely amusing.

As said before, Big Shot's Funeral doesn't end in an entirely satisfactory manner, though the characters end up pretty well. A happy ending seems to be in order for most of the cast, which wasn't really necessary. Plus, the film ultimately gives a lot of weight to the romance between Yoyo and Lucy, which is unfortunate as it's a plot development that's neither interesting or compelling. However, the above doesn't really detract from the obvious fun at needling China's ever-changing society, which Big Shot's Funeral succeeds at spectacularly. Satire is really hard to pull off, so even a halfway successful one like this sholud be given a look. People looking for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon thrills—which was also produced by Columbia Pictures Asia—should steer clear, but discerning audiences may find a lot to like. (Kozo 2002)

   
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Columbia/Tri-Star
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Language Track (Mandarin and English)
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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