While it would be tempting to say "Big $hot's Funeral" loses something in the translation, that's not completely true. We get the joke. It's just not very funny.
For whatever reason, there's been a glut of movies lately that feature a film within a film, a conceit that is already tiresome enough. But this Chinese-American co-production is so poorly executed, with such a lack of subtlety, it's one of the worst.
And though there are a few laughs here, but they come from moments the filmmakers probably didn't intend to be funny.
The film also wastes some talented actors. The "big shot" of the title is Don Tyler (Donald Sutherland), an American filmmaker in China shooting a remake of "The Last Emperor." Tyler's health is failing, so his faithful assistant (Rosamund Kwan) wants to hire someone to shoot a documentary on him "just in case." The lucky guy is YoYo (Ge You), a down-on-his-luck cameraman who's pretty excited about the project.
But just as he starts, Tyler collapses and falls into a coma due primarily to Tony (Paul Mazursky), a studio head who takes the picture away from Tyler and plans to replace him with a music-video director. Things go from bad to worse when YoYo finds himself organizing a tribute and funeral for the hanging-on-by-a-thread Tyler a man he barely knows.
The plot's not quite as
straightforward as that sounds. There are several twists and turns, but few of them are as clever as director Feng Xiaogang and his co-screenwriters seem to think they are. And even the cast struggles with this material. Sutherland is at his most aloof here, while Mazursky can't seem to rein himself in.
As for the two Chinese stars, Ge is uncharismatic and not very likable. Kwan is, however, and she deserves better. (Those who have seen them may remember Kwan from Jet Li's Chinese "Once Upon a Time in China" movies.)
"Big $hot's Funeral" is rated PG for scattered use of strong profanity and some brief violence (a scuffle and some "cinematic" violence). Running time: 100 minutes.