Big Shot's Funeral

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 02/27/07 13:47:34

"Both biting and charming."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Ever get the idea that, if given the chance, companies would advertise anywhere, no matter how tacky? That’s the notion behind “Big Shot’s Funeral,” a witty, wonderful satire that tackles the excesses of corporate sponsorship by cramming every inch of a celebrity funeral with product placement.

The film stars Donald Sutherland as Tyler, a Hollywood director so famous he can now rely on just the one name. He’s come to China to remake “The Last Emperor,” but pretty soon, in his depressed state of mind, he’s realized his heart’s just not in it. Worse, studio boss (Paul Mazursky) informs him that even if he walks off the job, he’ll still receive directing credit (to ensure a box office bonanza), so he’s stuck with his name on this disaster no matter what.

Tyler’s only source of optimism comes from his newfound friendship with Yo Yo (Ge You), the cameraman hired to shoot footage of Tyler for a “making of” documentary. Tyler likes Yo Yo’s style, and the American is convinced they share a bond, even though neither speaks the other’s language.

It’s this communication gap that results in the idea of a “comedy funeral,” an over- the-top celebration of life that Tyler decides he wants for himself, and he wants Yo Yo to put it on. And then Tyler passes out into a coma, leaving Yo Yo to prepare this massive event.

His gets some help with his shady concert promoter pal (Ying Da) and Tyler’s lovely but uptight assistant (Rosamund Kwan). When they discover Tyler has no money for such an event, they decide to auction off ad space - a move which kicks off a selling frenzy so severe that Tyler’s corpse alone is planned to shill for eight different products, including dandruff shampoo and two brands of shoes (one for each foot, natch).

The movie features several cameos from Asian stars and filmmakers, and there’s a terrific moment of absurdity when one star drops by to practice his mourning: in between his tears, the actor will lament Tyler’s failure to use the proper calcium supplement, a bottle of which he’ll conveniently leave in the coffin, label facing the camera.

While “Funeral” is a wicked stab at crass commercialism, it’s also a sweet tale of friendship. As wacky as Tyler is, and as confusing he can be with Yo Yo at times due to the language barrier, it becomes evident that these are two people that have grown to care for one another. Both actors deliver such vibrant performances that both characters become remarkably compelling people, two honest souls trapped in an explosion of absurdity.

The film’s finale is its lone undoing; there’s a plot curve in the last ten minutes that comes off as unclear and grasping for laughs. That’s redeemed by a warm final scene, however, and besides, the rest of the film is genuinely funny enough that a faulty climax doesn’t hurt it. “Funeral” is a wild shot at the sheer gaudiness of both advertising and entertainment, and more often than not, it’s right on target.

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