Film Review: Have a Nice Day

STUDIO: Nezha Bros. Pictures/Le-joy Animation Studio | DISTRIBUTOR: Strand Releasing | DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Liu Jian | VOICE CAST: Zhu Changlong, Cao Kou, Xiaofeng Ma, Yang Siming
RELEASE DATE: Jan. 26, 2018
SPECS: NR | 77 min. | Animated crime comedy

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie 

An understated film that evokes the malaise of modern day capitalism, Have a Nice Day by China’s Liu Jian is a darkly comedic animated film that has a minimalistic style in both art and storytelling. With its simple-tone color palette, dark lines and minimal animation style, the film feels like animated pop art filtered through a muted color scheme.

The plot is centered on a stolen bag full of one-million Renminbi (around $150,000 USD). Much like the Safdie Brothers’ 2017 film, Good Time, and Tarantino’s 1994 classic, Pulp Fiction, wherever this bag goes, avarice and violence aren’t far behind. Characters come and go throughout the film’s rather sparse narrative, and each are personified through their relationship with money. There’s Xiao Zhang (Zhu Changlong), a young driver who initially steals the money from his mob boss, Uncle Liu (Yang Siming), hoping to use the funds to fix his girlfriend’s botched plastic surgery. Then there’s Uncle Liu himself, an older man who is shown throughout the film torturing a former schoolyard friend while calmly espousing long-winded anecdotes and philosophy to his artistic yes-man. There is also a hitman Uncle Liu hires to find Zhang and the cash.

Other characters who show up are a young couple related to Zhang’s unseen girlfriend, a depressed wannabe inventor (voiced by the director himself) and his cousin. Each have their own fantasy of how they’ll use this cash to better their lives, and Liu Jian excellently balances this cast of characters wherein the film never feels confusing or bloated. Jian also takes his time with this otherwise brisk 77 minute film, framing many scenes with exterior shots reminiscent of Yasujirō Ozu’s “pillow shots” to give audiences a sense of scope and setting.

It is difficult to find flaws in Have a Nice Day, beyond it being a film that may lose audiences with shorter attention spans. The film is gritty without being overly violent, philosophical without feeling preachy, and feels neither rushed nor drawn out. It is undoubtedly a timely piece, historically relevant and unapologetically critical of present-day capitalism from a point of view many Western audiences don’t frequently receive. Fans of Liu Jian’s debut feature, 2010’s Piercing I, are sure to find satisfaction in this strong second film, and those unfamiliar with Jian’s work will have a unique and enjoyable experience whether they are aficionados of adult animation or lovers of neo-noir crime movies.

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