Big Shot’s Funeral – Taking a Look at a Big Shot’s Earlier Work

Director Feng Xiaogang is London at the moment, promoting his new film, Back to 1942, probably one of the most high profile pieces he has created, certainly with the biggest budget.
Born in 1958, Feng began as art director on various projects, before moving on to his own films in the late 1990s. His black comedies such as Dream Factory, Sorry Baby and Be There or Be Square, were big domestic hits, not to mention the international cult titles Cell Phone and A World Without Thieves. In 2008, If You’re the One broke national box office records.Feng has become internationally renowned, making a name for himself in the West with his Shakespearian rendition of The Banquet, and historical epics Assembly and Aftershock. For me, he will always be the creator of the witty and sometimes hilarious black social comedies that so eloquently satirises contemporary Chinese society. In honour of this latest release, I offer up a review of Feng’s early success, Big Shot’s Funeral, which first appeared in the QMUL Student Union Newspaper, The Cub, #435, in 2001. Written by a very shy, naive, but high minded English student, Christine Ni.

With this film, we’re not really allowed to anticipate what is going to happen next. Where else does this happen? Well, in life, for example. We are left entirely in the hands of the director, and, quoting one of the characters, “the plot? Only God and Hitchcock knows”.

The film begins with a cameraman in Beijing being hired to follow the daily working life of world renown American film director, Tyler (Donald Sutherland), the 大腕, “Dan Wan” or Big Shot. Alongside Tyler’s disillusionment with his inability to solve problems with the West’s portrayal of other cultures, we are presented with the tension between commerciality and creativity. These themes prelude the rest of the development of the film.

So may be this’ll turn out to be a portrayal of Tyler’s artistic quest for truth? No. Tyler sends his film crew packing and heads off to a Buddhist temple. His cameramen Yoyo (Ge Yo – Sacrifice, The Banquet, If You’re the One, Cell Phone, To Live) visits him and explains that the Chinese celebrate the deaths of people who live a long life.

One day, Tyler collapses during breakfast, leaving a short video that authorizes Yoyo to give him a comedy funeral. Right, so what next? The plot takes several turns and snowballs into one big comic satire of contemporary Chinese society.

A valuable aspect of the film is that director Feng Xiaogang has shown an entirely different face of present-day China, to that of Zhang Yi Mou’s poor peasants in the country and harrowing human rights stories in the news. We meet a trendy and camp internet entrepreneur, seeking to rival, and another big shot who is supposedly behind China’s bulk of costume dramas.

Taking commerciality and publicity to the extreme has hilarious results. You’ll have a good laugh while wondering if there are more crazy people in the world then you think. So, a good choice to watch. 

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