Film Review: ‘Have A Nice Day’4 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
Director: Liu Jian
Cast: Yang Siming, Cao Kou, Ma Xiaofeng, Zhu Changlong, Cao Kai, Zheng Yi
Runtime: 75 minutes
Written by Tan Mei Qi
If Pulp Fiction, Bojack Horseman and In The Mood For Love came together and had a baby, it would be Liu Jian’s 2017 animated neo-noir dark comedy, Have A Nice Day (spoiler alert: no one in the film actually has a nice day, as you can tell from the films that inspired it).
With the oldest MacGuffin in film – a bag of money – we track the cash through the lives of a mishmash cast of desperate everyday people. Naive lovebird Xiao Zhang kickstarts the plot by stealing the bag containing a million yuan in hopes of bringing his girlfriend, Yan Zi, to South Korea to fix a botched plastic surgery. Shenanigans ensue as the mob boss he works for, Uncle Liu, attempts to track him down, and the money passes through a manner of all places and hands.
There is a meditative quietness one would not expect to get from a film of this genre. Instead of packed action scenes, viewers are treated to extended sequences of modern China’s gritty, dilapidated small-town landscapes rendered with excruciating detail. From seasonally unemployed labourers crouched outside shopfronts and Internet bars plastered with advertisements to the vandalised makeshift housing of construction sites, Liu paints a sobering view of the country’s 40-odd years of rapid economic development.
Despite their flat, 2D rendering, there is an undeniably grim realness to the scenes, made all the more poignant by singular movements contained within them. The characters long for freedom, for escape, but the only thing that really moves is the curling-up of cigarette smoke in an otherwise still frame. What looks at first like a means of ensuring economical animation in fact carries forward the theme of stillborn dreams so often mentioned in the film. The money appears to be the key to a better, bigger life outside of the small town, but ironically, it is the characters’ greed for the cash and such a life that keeps them trapped.
Despite such a bleak storyline and the apparent slowness with which it progresses, Have A Nice Day’s pace never sags. The sharp social commentary is charmingly matched with wicked, absurdist humour. In the midst of brutally threatening Xiao Zhang, full-time butcher and part-time martial arts hitman Skinny receives a call – “I’m not interested in property investment,” he says, cleaver in one hand, mobile phone in the other, “Thank you.” Every interaction becomes a microcosm of capitalistic heartlessness, with violence and blood doled out as easily as the way cash changes hands.
The real killers in the film, however, are the stunning soundtracks, especially the absolutely haunting piano number written and performed by electronic music duo, Dave Liang and Sun Yunfan of The Shanghai Restoration Project. Along with disco pop track, “My 80s”, the music perfectly captures the urban melancholy that colours the film, and the heartbreakingly beautiful persistence of people whose jadedness never quite manages to snuff out the spark of hope that lies beneath the ashes of ruined dreams.
Though frequently likened to Tarantino’s cult classic, there is no doubt that Liu manages to take a time-worn story and make it his and China’s own. Poignantly animated, it is an outlandishly bizarre yet fascinating package of sociopolitics and film.
Have A Nice Day (2017) is now streaming on The Projector Plus: Movies on Demand.
This article is produced as part of the Film Critics Lab: A Writing Mentorship Programme, organised by *SCAPE and The Filmic Eye, with support from the Singapore Film Society and Sinema.
About the writer:
When not deep-diving into the trove of queer Asian dramas and cinema, Mei Qi is busy wishing that Ghibli food was real.