Cathy Yan's Dead Pigs is exclusively showing on MUBI starting February 12, 2021 in the Debuts series.
This is a deeply personal story years in the making.
Dead Pigs is a reunion of sorts—a way for me to better understand my birth country, a place that has enthralled and confounded me ever since I left it in 1990 at the age of four. In my lifetime, China has undergone such immense change, lifting close to a billion people out of poverty amidst the fastest urbanization in world history. But there is another side to this massive transition. Deng Xiaoping’s famous words—“To get rich is glorious!”—have compromised everything from food safety to the environment to the souls of its citizens. All this made contemporary China a fascinating, exaggerated, complicated, ridiculous and wonderful setting for my first film.
I made Dead Pigs in 2017 and it premiered at Sundance in 2018. To my surprise and glee, it was well received. But the film had a hard time finding a distributor willing to bet on a predominantly Chinese language indie from an unknown director. In the years since—and what a few years it's been!—a new world is upon us. Parasite won Best Picture, #MeToo swept through a dysfunctional Hollywood, and my second feature Birds of Prey released just before a global pandemic and a summer of intense racial reckoning. Suddenly, there was this acute realization among many Americans that Gordon Gecko's famous words—"Greed is good"—has compromised not only the environment and its citizens, but the very soul of our nation.
Four years after I made Dead Pigs, this is another type of reunion. By examining my past, the film has actually become a prescient lens for our present and future—not just in China but in America and around the world. All around us, the conflict between those who move forward and those who get left behind has never seemed so pronounced.
Dead Pigs’s five main characters come from all walks of life, ranging from a rural pig farmer to an American architect. Yet, they are more alike than they are different—all lost among the shuffle, full of ambition but without a way to get there, just trying to stay afloat against the currents of change.
Like these characters, we have all felt displaced and isolated. In these crazy times, when everything feels so far apart, when differences are amplified between fathers and sons, cities and towns, wealthy and poor—what are the things that connect us? When everything is changing so quickly, what are the things that don't? And in our moments of dark nihilism, of which I'm sure we have all experienced of late, what happens when you keep pulling at the edges until the threads start to tear and there’s nothing left? Dead Pigs doesn't offer any straight answers. But it is hopeful, as I was hopeful, and am still hopeful, that while forces larger than any individual will keep pushing us down and along and away from each other, the sun will shine again, the birds will fly and the people will come together, even if for one brief moment, even if just to sing a song.