The mainland's most successful film - Big Shot's Funeral - premieres in Hong Kong cinemas today with its makers hoping the movie can emulate its success in China where it grossed 40 million yuan (HK$37.6 million). The black comedy features an international cast, including veteran Canadian star Donald Sutherland, alongside Hong Kong actress Rosamund Kwan Chi-lam and award-winning mainland actor Ge You. Director Feng Xiaogang, China's top commercial film-maker, said the film's success lay in the performance of the cast and in 'an absurd story' that would make people laugh. The movie, which will open across Hong Kong on March 21, tells the story of a famous director who slips into a coma while filming an epic in Beijing. His friends organise a high-profile funeral and auction off advertising for the event, only to find the director wakes up. Sutherland, 67, plays the director. Feng yesterday said the English-Mandarin film satirises the way advertising pervades modern China. 'Initially we wanted a Chinese actor to take up the role [of the director]. But because of superstitious beliefs, it could be a concern for Chinese people to play a dead person and so we went for a foreign actor,' he said. Screen legend Marlon Brando and French actor Gerard Depardieu were both approached to play the part. But Brando changed his mind after initially expressing interest and Depardieu did not respond. 'Sutherland is the first actor to have agreed to star in the film. He's a good actor,' Feng said. Although humour does not always travel well across cultures, the director thinks Hong Kong and overseas audiences will be amused as the plot is universally funny. 'The details of a joke in different places may vary, but a funny idea would be funny to everyone. When the film was shown at the Berlin Film Festival, the German audiences laughed a lot even though they had to read the subtitles,' he said.