Movie: I've watched a lot of movies over the years, from all parts of the world. One country that has an under appreciated movie industry is that of China (both mainland and Hong Kong). Most of the movies made there are technically weak and really geared towards the lowest common denominator (LCD). Their movies that make it "big" in the USA market are almost always the martial arts "beat 'em up" flicks that are shown in rundown theatres and bought for spare change online. Personally, I think that's a shame because the Chinese culture, many aspects of it at least, is rarely represented in domestic releases in anything approaching an intelligent manner. Think about all the stereotypes you've noticed over the years and you'll know what I mean. The country has a rich culture with a great many ideas of importance but it's rare that most westerners get to see an inside look at them. That brings me to this review of Da Wan (Big Shot's Funeral).
The movie centered on a Chinese cameraman (YoYo) who is charged with arranging a "comedy funeral" for an important American director who is dying while making a movie in China. The director has lost his vision and his health takes a turn for the worse soon after meeting the cameraman (played by well known Chinese actor, You Ge). The director, Tyler, (Sutherland) had hit it off with YoYo and respected his integrity so, just before falling into a coma, asks him for the funeral. YoYo takes the responsibility seriously, as much out of respect for the great director as his cultural programming to respect the wishes of the dead, and looks to find a way to pay for the funeral. Tyler doesn't have any money in the bank, neither does YoYo or Tyler's assistant Lucy (Rosamund Kwan-a hotty) which makes it a difficult task. YoYo enlists the aid of a promoter friend of his (Da Ying) who suggests they sell sponsorship of the funeral for air time. The whole idea snowballs from there in a mix of Americanized capitalistic greed combined with Chinese pragmatism and the budding entrepreneurial spirit fostered there in recent years.
I found the idea of the comedy funeral, a funeral that celebrates life with happiness rather than the sadness that most such events foster to be intriguing. The idea is that you get people laughing about the good times and otherwise appreciative for the positive things in life rather than focus on the negative aspects of life funerals are known for. This being the movies, it has to be done in an overblown manner of course but that was part of the charm of the movie. In a few ways, this movie was as much an independent film as any that are made domestically for lower budgets as were the ideas behind it. The way the characters dealt with their respective roles, from YoYo refusing ads from bootleggers as inappropriate to a great artistic mind such as Tylor, to Lucy's rebuking YoYo's philosophies about capitalism by charging him (just as he had charged her earlier) for advice-turnabout being fairplay after all, added to the fun here. Granted some of the moments are really cheesy and a lot of the movie's humor is directed squarely at native Chinese speakers (language and cultural humor are often like that) but each time I watch the movie, I get something else out of it. As such, it's not a movie made for the casual audience but it's worth checking out by fans of comedies. Lastly, the performance by Sutherland was completely upstaged by most of the cast, particularly You Ge and Da Ying but he did fit in here. Perhaps my biggest complaint was the ending being a bit too contrite compared to the rest of the show. In all, a good, if not very good look at the topics handled here.
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.85:1 ratio Anamorphic Widescreen. It was very clear although there were some moments the movie had too much grain or the colors were a bit deep. The blacks weren't perfectly black all the time and there was a bit of grain but this was a far cry from most Chinese made movies which are technically inferior.
Sound: The audio track was presented in a choice of either a 5.1 Dolby Stereo English/Mandarin (mostly Mandarin but a lot of English tossed in, primarily by Sutherland and those talking with him) track or a 2..0 stereo French track. The subtitle choices were English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, or none at all. The Mandarin/English track was exceptionally clear for a Chinese made movie, even one with Columbia Pictures' backing. The score was very entertaining and appropriate as well.
Extras: 3 trailers. Not much to be sure.
Final Thoughts: This is a tough call, I'm rating the movie as Recommended due to it's higher than average production values and sly look at capitalism, culture clash, and death but it's not going to please everyone. None of these topics is generally handled as well by Hollywood filmmakers but the movie wasn't without some real deficiencies either. A Chinese neighbor of mine explained it like this, the movie took from both cultures and only people truly versed in both cultures will be able to appreciate it fully (of course he thinks You Ge is a comedic genius too).