The Sundance award-winning comedy comes out Feb. 12.

By Mary Sollosi
February 08, 2021 at 09:00 AM EST

Most American audiences know Cathy Yan for having directed last year's anarchic supervillain(ess) caper Birds of Prey, but now they'll finally have a chance to catch up on her work leading up to Harley Quinn's fantabulous emancipation. The filmmaker's debut feature Dead Pigs, which premiered at Sundance in 2018 (where it won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Ensemble Acting), gets its global release on Friday, and EW can exclusively reveal the darkly funny indie's trailer, above.

"It feels a little bit like going back to my roots and going home," to be talking about Dead Pigs again, three years after its festival premiere, Yan tells EW. "I am deeply proud of the film. It feels good to finally get it out there, and hopefully, it doesn't feet dated at all. I don't think it does… If anything, the last crazy four years that we've had since I actually made the movie [have made] me see the whole movie in a different light, too."

Credit: Federico Cesca

The highly original comedy was inspired by a true story from 2013 in which thousands of dead pigs were found floating down the Huangpu River, near Shanghai. "I was really intrigued by the network effect of it," says the writer-director. "It made me think, 'Well, how can that speak to and be a metaphor for the ways in which we do affect each other so much, and that our actions affect the next person and the next person, and the many ways that we are so very intersected?'" So from there, she created an ensemble comedy about how the phenomenon affected various characters whose lives connect due to the floating corpses.

The first is Old Wang (Haoyu Yang), a pig farmer who loses his livelihood in the strange crisis and becomes desperate to pay off debts; meanwhile, his sister Candy (Vivian Wu) resists an aggressive developer determined to tear down her family home, the last house standing in her otherwise demolished neighborhood (inspired in part by a real-life "nail house" owner in Chongqing who attracted significant media attention). Then there's American architect Sean (David Rysdahl) trying to find himself in Shanghai while working on the project that would take the place of Candy's house; the lonely, beautiful rich girl Xia Xia (Li Meng), searching for some direction in her life; and a romantic busboy, Wang Zhen (Mason Lee), who is willing to go to great lengths for the people he loves.

Credit: Federico Cesca

Through the characters' interlocking stories, Yan explores the tensions between young and old, wealth and poverty, progress and tradition. Her concept started "with China just being such an exaggerated, overt version of that," she says. "In my lifetime, it's changed so much. All of those tensions were highlighted, and sort of in high relief." But while the complex narrative takes place against the backdrop of a rapidly modernizing Shanghai, Dead Pigs is no less universal for that specificity: "Maybe we kind of look the other way or weren't as aware of the repercussions of rampant capitalism quite in the same way that it's just so overt China, but it doesn't mean that it hasn't happened here, or it doesn't mean that it hasn't happened anywhere."

On a smaller scale, too, within the little lives of its characters, Yan's deeply empathetic, slyly hilarious film connects profoundly to some of the questions that have haunted American life for the past year (if not for the whole existence of "American life"). "Where do we go if we just continue to worship money, and money is the only thing that we really hold dear?" she reflects. "What are the things that make us human, whether it's love, or family, or just dignity?"

Dead Pigs hits MUBI on Feb. 12. Trailer courtesy of MUBI.  

Related content: