Member Film Review: Big Shot’s Funeral- 大腕

Directed by Feng Xiaogong-冯小刚, Starring- Donald Sutherland and Ge You-葛优
Released- 2001   Available through Netflix
Film Poster courtesy of
Synopsis: As a famed American film director Rob Tyler is in Beijing filming a remake of the Last Emperor, his translator hires a local cameraman, Yoyo,  played by Ge You famous for his role in Farewell My Concubine, to shoot a documentary about the project. As Tyler suffers an existential crisis of creativity and health issues, he develops a friendship with the plucky Yoyo. While strolling through a temple the two discuss the celebratory nature of Chinese funerals which, due to translational errors becomes, in Tyler’s mind, comedy funerals. Told he is being removed from the project by the production team, Tyler takes Yoyo into a trailer to film what may be his last words, “Yoyo, I want you in charge of my comedy funeral.” While Tyler is in a coma Yoyo enlists the help of a high powered businessman friend to plan the funeral spectacular with funding from corporate investors. No one bothers to to think about what may happen if the corpse never materializes and hilarity ensues.
       My Impressions: I began watching this film with low expectations as I had never heard of it and I am quite the Chinese film buff. Although this movie may have gone under the radar of international critics and festivals, it is definitely worth watching. Ge You is delightful as the caring and creative cameraman turned friend and Donald Sutherland plays the aging artist with true emotion. Although billed as a comedy, Big Shot’s Funeral carries some deeper social meanings as well. The film was released at the time that China was fully entering the global capitalist system and had just been accepted as a full member of the WTO. Feng explores the rampant commercialization sweeping China with the concept of a corporate funded death exhibition. In one scene an auction is held to release sponsorship spots on banners for the public funeral and, later, Yoyo and his business partner use a mannequin to rehearse the viewing of the corpse while trying to fit as many adverts on the body as possible. The film’s major detractor is the poorly written English dialogue and the wooden performances of the English language actors, excepting Mr. Sutherland. Luckily, Ge You’s witty English and Chinese language delivery and the humor and fast pace of the film supersede the brief moments of flat English dialogue.
Reviewed by Christa M. Ernst