Film

Big Shot's Funeral (Da Wan) (2001)

A.E. Souzis

A sprawling modern day fable where East meets West on a movie set.


Big Shot's Funeral (da Wan)

Director: Xiaogang Feng
Cast: Donald Sutherland, You Ge, Rosamund Kwan
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
First date: 2001
US Release Date: 2003-04-15

Big Shot's Funeral is a sprawling modern day fable where East meets West on a movie set. The film centers on American auteur Tyler (Donald Sutherland), directing a remake of Bertolucci's The Last Emperor in Beijing's Forbidden City. As he struggles with the logistics, he also struggles with a familiar dilemma: can he make true art without being tainted by money?

Tyler wants to make a great film, but, with all the expectations of the current project, feels he's lost his usual touch. Part of this problem, he explains to his assistant, Lucy (Rosamund Kwan), is that he just can't get into the mind of the Last Emperor, because, after all, he's a Westerner. And neither can she, he decides, because she is American born. Only a Chinese native can truly "understand." With this in mind, Tyler seeks counsel from Yoyo (Ge You), a cameraman Lucy's recently hired to shoot a behind the scenes documentary.

A pony-tailed eccentric, spouting bits of Eastern and Western philosophy, Tyler idealizes and exoticizes the Far East (much in the same way that Bertolucci did with his film). In seeking out Yoyo as the "authentic" Chinese witness, Tyler also idealizes him, while creating tension between Lucy and Yoyo. She can mingle freely between both cultures, and knows it. Yoyo, by contrast, speaks only a little English, stuttering over the few words he knows.

Tyler's ignorance is one thing; his self-consciousness and fear of failure are another. Even as he sinks into a depression and considers abandoning the project, his investors sense trouble and offer the film to another director. The news causes Tyler to have a stroke. As he collapses, he deliriously asks Yoyo to film him, begging, on camera, to make him a "comedy funeral" when he dies. When Tyler lapses into a coma, Yoyo sets to planning a lavish, whimsical event.

Yoyo must figure out how to finance such a production. He and his spastic marketing guru friend Louis (Da Ying) come up with the bright idea of bringing in advertisers to sponsor the funeral. The pairing of the taciturn Yoyo and hyperactive Louis makes for the film's funniest moments. After scoring a spot to televise the funeral on Chinese TV, they hold an auction for sponsors to bid on the rights to advertise at the funeral. The room is packed and tensions run high, as sneaker and bottled water companies offer millions of dollars to hawk their wares at a funeral (the scene satirizes the capitalist boom that hit China within the last 20 years).

Lucy also finds herself swept up in the planning. In one bizarre scene, she joins Louis and Yoyo to review the storyboards for the event. They decide to show a short animated film about Tyler's upcoming reincarnation into the body they consider most "politically correct": a round-faced, smiling African boy. This short film, along with all the choreographed dancers, fireworks, and billboards, will be projected on the stage behind Tyler's coffin.

And yet, even as they work on their joint project, cross-cultural tensions erupt again. When Lucy first meets Louis, he speaks to her in English. She announces that she speaks fluent Chinese, to which Louise responds, in English, that it is only "polite" to speak to his customers in their native language. The dig hits home, underscoring the thorny intersections of identity and business: first, Lucy's status as an American-born Chinese makes her different from Yoyo and Louis, despite her attempts to fit in. As well, Louis reveals his own abilities and understanding of cultural nuance, beyond the American movie company's clout: he's a Chinese businessman with international clients, and maintains his distance and edge by speaking their language.

On these many levels, Big Shot's Funeral is both entertaining and revealing. But while its goofy story pokes fun at serious issues (cross-cultural exchange, capitalism in the East), its erratic pacing and apparent ambivalence (are they making fun of Tyler, or celebrating him?) dilute the satire. Still, the film's funniest scenes -- Louis and Yoyo wheeling and dealing -- point to the most pressing concerns for Xiaogang Feng (and any other film director): how to make money and art.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".

Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.

Music

Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.

Music

That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.

Books

Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.

Reviews

Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.

Music

Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.

Film

'Thor: Ragnarok' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.

Music

Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.

Music

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings Team for Wonderfully Sparse "Where Or When" (premiere)

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings' "Where Or When" is a wonderfully understated performance that walks the line between pop and jazz.

Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.