Fri, Mar 29, 2002 - Page 10 News List

Taking shots at China's fantasy facade

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

Ge You stars opposite Donald Sutherland in Big Shot's Funeral.

PHOTO COURTESY OF BUENA VISTA

For those who are interested in East-meets-West stories, this is one of the more amusing films of the year. But following on the success of Oscar-winner Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (臥虎藏龍), Big Shot's Funeral offers something entirely different. Where Tiger tried to create a romantic ancient China, Big Shot is trying its best to mock Chinese culture.

In this contemporary comedy, Donald Sutherland plays world-famous director Don Tyler who has always been fond of Chinese culture. In the fantastic Forbidden City of Beijing, Tyler is surrounded by hundreds of costumed extras, trying to make a mega-budget re-make of The Last Emperor. He suffers such a creative block on the film set that he hardly knows where to place the camera.

Yo Yo is a cynical Chinese cameraman with who was hired by Asian-born, Western-educated Lucy, Tyler's personal assistant, to shoot footage for Tyler. Yo's unlikely friendship with Tyler helps relieve the depression Tyler feels over his creative block, but not for long. Tyler falls in a coma and his last wish is that Yo Yo throw him a wacky "comedy funeral."

The story takes a rollercoaster ride through satire and absurdity as Yo Yo turns to best friend King, who has grand business ambitions but poor taste, to help him organize the funeral. As King intends to make the funeral a world-wide televised extravaganza, the costs become uncontrollable and the only thing Yo Yo and King can do is open bids to place advertisements in the funeral. An Italian brand of furniture supplies the bed for Tyler to lay on and Cozy Cola, Obituary Bird and other of Tyler's "close friends" take part as well. But in the midst of the unbridled craze for commercial placement, Tyler wakes up.

Film Notes:

Big Shot's Funeral (大腕)

Directed by: Feng Xiao-gang (馮小剛)

Taiwan Release: tomorrow

Running time: 100 minutes

Rated: G

Starring: Ge Yu (葛優), Rosamund Kwan (關之琳), Donald Sutherland


Director Feng excels at satirizing two things, the stereotyped Chinese fantasy and the entrepreneurial zeal which has begun sweeping through China. To make these two aspects work, Feng uses non-stop jokes and self-mockery during the advertising auction, focusing on China's rampant piracy problem and the mixed feelings towards Asian Americans. Ge You and Ying Da do a good job at making the most of these jokes.

Ying Da represents the upstart businessman with nothing but self-boasting and tackiness. And Ge You represents the jobless Beijing dweller suddenly disoriented by the wave of Westernization.

Strictly speaking, the plot transitions are not quite coherent and the ending is too predictable. But this hasn't stopped Big Shot's Funeral from becoming the best-selling local-made film ever in China, with box office receipts over 35 million renminbi (US$4.2 million), a number any Taiwanese director would envy.

Whether or not the film can cross over to Western audiences remains to be seen. Although the script has a Western context and there is the huge talent of Donald Sutherland, many of the jokes are delivered in Mandarin. The Mandarin voice and expressions of the actors are part of the comedy, making it is hard for non-Chinese viewers to appreciate. Some of the jokes are even based on Chinese word play and cannot be translated. The film's foreign distributors have their work cut out for them.

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