Wild Iranian comedy Pig is set in the world of Hasan Kasmai (played by Hassan Majooni) – a blacklisted director whose fellow filmmakers are being brutally slaughtered and having the word ‘Pig’ carved into their foreheads by an unknown serial killer.
Why are only movie-makers being targeted? Why isn’t the killer after him? What is real?
Pig, written, directed and produced by Mani Haghighi (A Dragon Arrives, Modest Reception), examines the life of the frustrated and vain filmmaker, who slowly begins to slide into an increasingly odd, filmic nightmare of his own creation, gradually losing touch with reality.
Our hero is banned from making films, instead directing commercials for cleaning products.
In one of many memorable visual sequences, an advertisement being filmed for bug spray has dancers lined up and dressed as ants in front of a green screen, in formation together. The scene is almost Stanley Donen-esque, recalling Singing In The Rain, and classic musicals like Gold Diggers.
Another striking scene portrays the character’s dream, in a black room with an electric LED tennis racquet.
Firmly fitting the tradition of films-within-films, the narrative is used to look at the art and process of filmmaking itself. With its wild visual sequences, and a look into the loose, insane world of a film director, Fellini’s 8 ½ immediately comes to mind. It’s not a long stretch to assume that the fictitious director is a stand-in for the actual director, Mani Haghighi, who turns a sombre subject literally on its head – into a darkly black comedy.
The film’s protagonist becomes an investigator, pulling away from his monitoring of social media to solve the mystery. Whilst he is affected by the deaths of his fellow countrymen, and suspicions that he’s the murderer, those around him are seemingly only interested in Instagram selfies.
Pulling no punches as it takes on fame and celebrity in the online age, including scenes of abject violence that might put some viewers off, the visually splendorous Pig is a meta-take which eviscerates the internet and social media.
This is a rare and perversely kind of cherishable film: one that attempts to slather its shortcomings in preposterously overreaching style. The setting is Taiwan in the bad old 1980s, when an eerily perfect family with their finger in every honey pot conspire to ram through a crooked land deal. Then murder intervenes. And family revelations. And a blind minstrel, to deliver said revelations in a Greek chorus-type approach to narration.
Fault director Yang Ya-che, perhaps, for turning a conceivably interesting puzzle of a story into a murky and incomprehensible wreck. Don’t fault him, though, for lack of ambition: The Bold, the Corrupt and the Beautiful may be batshit crazy, but it does craziness elegantly. The overwhelming impression is that Yang cared not in the slightest for the twistiness of his script nor its nods at political context, and instead treated this as a chamber piece, a hothouse to push his stylistic impulses to the extreme. What this looks like in practice is the crispness of Jiang Wen circa Let the Bullets Fly, mixed with the over-the-top formal precision of Park Chan-wook, particularly in its would-be risqué ‘sexiness.’ There are even hints of Kim Ki-young, in the unabashedly florid treatment of its female-centred material. Yang has a fine visual sense as director: the meticulousness of the colour and set design are stunning, and the cinematography is hard to fault. The dialogue is a sophisticated melange of Mandarin, Taiwanese, Cantonese and Japanese, suggesting a depth and complexity never delivered upon. Sporadically, these elements result in such a good scene that it adds to the disappointment that the film never coalesces, or begins to make sense.
As for the actors: the three superb female leads struggle against the thinness of their roles. Kara Hui, a Hong Kong action star in the ’80s, commands authority as the demented matriarch. Wu Ke-xi, fresh from her transnational indie film collaborations with Myanmar-Taiwanese director Midi Z, turns in a delirious performance that articulates her character’s neuroticism; and Vicky Chen’s star continues to rise.
This is ostensibly a family tragedy, but its post-modern remove leaves it with little meaningful to say about family. Character development is neglected across the board. In execution, it’s messy and misguided, but The Bold, the Corrupt and the Beautiful at least delivers two hours of unfiltered opulence.