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j (2001)
Big Shot's Funeral

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 02/27/2011
Summary: Funny and sophisticated

“Big Shot’s Funeral” is Feng Xiaogang’s reflection on movies, spectacle, the power of advertising and how perception becomes reality. It centers around a movie being shot in Beijing and the planning of the funeral for a person who isn’t quite dead. Old Hollywood pro Donald Sutherland is well cast; at this stage of his career he does somnolent as second nature so his few flashes of emotion are all the more effective. Rosamund Kwan makes one sorry that she retired when she did. She is perfect as Lucy, Tyler’s hyper-loyal assistant. She does a great acting job showing how she is slowly falling in love with YoYo, the cameraman hired to shoot a “making of” piece for Tyler’s remake of Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor.”

The discussion of remake introduces many of the themes that Feng Xiaogang touches on through the film. Tyler, YoYo and Lucy are walking through the Forbidden City (or a set made to look like a section of the Forbidden City) and Tyler is expounding on his reasons for making the movie. Bertolucci, he says, showed things from the outside; as a European all he could do is show the pomp, ceremony and extravagance of the setting while making the emperor an almost stock tragic figure. Tyler will do things differently and show the emperor as a human being, do the story from the inside. The point, of course, is that Tyler is as much an outsider as if he just arrived from Mars. He knows no Mandarin; his idea of Chinese culture is vulgar and insultingly simplistic—he acts as if he was the first to notice the use of gold and red in the palace; worst of all he seizes upon the first Chinese person he sees—YoYo—and makes him into the epitome of all Chinese people, the representation of his race.

The depiction of how we are influenced by advertising and media is not subtle--Feng Xiaogang is as blatant in showing how we love the crass enticements of the ads as the ads are themselves. Tyler’s corpse, for example, will have an athletic shoe on one foot and a dress shoe on the other since each company bought placement for its products. China’s “greatest actor”—Fu Biao playing Fu Biao—does a scene in which he breaks down weeping, wailing that in China the film industry knew how calcium supplements made for longevity and he only wished he could have gotten word to Tyler, his great friend—who he has never met. He finishes the scene by placing a bottle of the sponsor’s supplement on the chest of the dummy standing in for the corpse.

A very creative scene takes place when Lucy, who has control of Tyler’s estate, is introduced to Louis, a promoter/hustler friend of YoYo, as the person to sell the funeral to potential sponsors. It begins with a wide shot of several leather armchairs in a semi-circle facing the camera. Louis’s “aides”—out of work actors hired on the spot—fill most of the seats with Louis, Lucy and YoYo in the middle. It looks very much like a ceremonial photo-op from Richard Nixon’s meeting with Mao Zedong almost 40 years ago. Louis speaks in Mandarin which is translated into English for Lucy by an interpreter standing behind him. Lucy is bilingual and tells him that she speaks and understands Mandarin perfectly but Louis tells her that it is the rule of his firm that when dealing with a customer for the first time the transaction must be in the native languages of each party.

There are other examples of the insanity of post-modern display, some less effective than others. When some triad thugs arrive late in the proceedings to insist on a place in the funeral for an orchestra and chorus praising their brand of bottled water it seems tacked on and superfluous as if the director decided that here was one more trope to shove into the film.

The parade of outrages against civilized order never becomes tiresome because we are also interested in the romance between Lucy and YoYo. YoYo is painfully shy around women. After Tyler has his stroke and Lucy is trying to deal with it she asks YoYo to hug her, which he isn’t able to do. We see their relationship progress in how Lucy speaks of him with Tyler and his sleazy but lovable friend and business partner Tony (Paul Mazursky). She doesn’t want them to take advantage of YoYo, doesn’t want him hurt. Her interest clearly isn’t one of simply wanting fair play for an innocent, which they point out to her embarrassment. The affair grows slowly and unevenly—the way things do with middle aged adults and their first kiss isn’t exchanged until the two of them are on a movie set playing themselves as characters in the movie directed by the recovered Tyler.

“Big Shot’s Funeral” is a lovely movie that rewards some patient watching and listening. While missing the action and fraught emotions of “The Banquet” and “A World without Thieves”, the other films by Feng I have seen, it is well worth seeing.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 05/13/2010

Big Shot's Funeral represents something of an anomaly for a Eastern/Western production. It's not an action movie, nor a sappy period drama. Rather, it's a comedy that manages to keep being light and fun despite being a bit of a cautionary tale about the growing state of capitalism is modern China.

Reviewer Score: 6

Reviewed by: dandan
Date: 06/02/2008
Summary: cozy cola...

yoyo (ge you), an out of work film-maker, is hired by lucy (rosamund kwan), the assistant of don tyler (donald sutherland), to film a 'making of' documentary, chronicling the production of tyler's remake of 'the last emperor'. tyler's heart isn't in the production, but he strikes up a friendship with the smart, likeable, yoyo, spending more time discussing film, life and, particularly, death with him. via lucy, who translates, of course...

after talk of a "comedy funeral", tyler returns to his trailer and collapses in front of yoyo; with his life, seemingly, ebbing away, he asks yoyo to arrange a comedy funeral for him. yoyo takes up the challenge, whilst tyler lies, comatose, in hospital...

well, this was a big 'new year's comedy' a few years back and the presence of ge you, along with sutherland and the bizarre concept, made me take note of it. and, when i saw it for a pound, on a market stall, i decided to pick it up.

the film is a product of feng xiaogang, who is an odd fellow: amongst his other credits are 'the banquet', which i thought was rather good, indeed, and 'a world without thieves', which was extremely entertaining guff. 'big shot's funeral' is a satirical comedy, poking fun at both the desire to simply create profit from film-making and the nature of advertising: with yoyo frantically selling advertising space, and allowing product placement, at the funeral in order to cover the ever escalating costs.

as you'd imagine, ge you pulls off his role with no trouble at all; he's as watchable as he always is and manages to be equally deadpan, opportunistic, principled and a character who you can warm to. rosamund kwan is a lovely as usual and works well as a middle(wo)man. donald sutherland is also pretty good; it certainly makes a change to see him, along with paul mazursky, as westerners who can actually act in a chinese film, a rare thing. ya ding, who plays yoyo's friend and the manager of a promotions company, adds to a pretty solid line-up.

so, does it work and is it funny? well, yes, it kinda works and, yes, it is kinda funny. now, it's not roll around on the floor funny, but it is pretty amusing throughout and the narrative progresses at a pretty blistering pace that wanders into the absurd with no fear.

not a classic, but worth a watch...