The Yangtze River is filled with thousands of floating dead pigs and no one seems to know what has caused their deaths. While the deaths are an underlying mystery of Cathy Yan’s dark comedy Dead Pigs, the pigs serve as an important metaphor for China’s rapidly changing landscape.

Throughout Dead Pigs there is a sense of isolation that comes as a direct result of conflict between modernization and tradition that the country is embroiled in. Despite owning a successful salon, Candy Wang (Vivian Wu) refuses to sell her old family home to a development project headed by American architect Sean (David Rysdahl). Seeing China as a fertile area for growth and possibility, Sean is wooed by a talent scout (Deadpool 2’s Zazie Beetz) to moonlight as Western VP for hire.

Aside from angering the company Sean works for, Candy’s decision also does not sit well with her pig farmer brother Old Wang (Yang Haoyu) who, due to his pigs dying and being swindled in a VR investment scam, is in desperate need of money to pay back a local gangster.


Running out of options, Old Wang reaches out to his son Wang Zhen (Mason Lee), who he believes is a successful business man in the city. What Old Wang does not realize, as he only contacts him when in need of money, is that his son actually works as a waiter in a suckling pig restaurant. It is at his job that Wang Zhen meets and falls for Xia Xia (Li Meng), a wealth young woman whose social status cannot hide the emotional pain that her father’s wandering eye has caused on the family.

Yan’s film often feels reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, complete with a musical number thrown in for good measure, when observing the characters’ lives intersect. Dead Pigs is no knock off though as it confidently displays its own distinct voice. Yan’s film refuses to be placed into one specific box. Dead Pigs does not take itself too seriously, but still manages to raise serious questions about what society is willing to lose, both personally and culturally, in the name of greed.

Despite its lengthy run time, the film is brisk and fully of energy. Yan’s characters, regardless of which side of the social hierarchy they fall on, are layered and feel like real people rather than caricatures. Equally darkly funny, strange and enthralling, Dead Pigs announces Cathy Yan as a director worthy of our attention.

Sunday, November 11, 2:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox


  1. Thank you for your interesting review! It seems unlikely that this one will arrive in a cinema where I live, but I’ll look for it in DVD if it gets released, the social commentary bit that you mentioned in your review looks really interesting to me.

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