Written and Directed by Liu Jian
Chinese animation is not exactly a booming business in movie making, but that is precisely what makes Have a Nice Day such an intriguing movie to me. China is one of the largest nations in the world, and one of if not the highest grossing country when it comes to box office revenue for movies. Major Hollywood blockbusters do very well there, and the Chinese movie industry is also an impressive machine, churning out numerous movies every year, some of which have quite the following even in America. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a Chinese animation film before though. But make no mistake about it, Have a Nice Day is not what most Americans think of when they think of animation. No, Have a Nice Day is a gritty crime drama, not your standard kids movie. This one is for adults.
Desperate for some money to help with his future wife, who recently had a botched plastic surgery, Xiao Zhang, a driver at a construction site, decides to steal a sum of money from his boss, Uncle Liu. The news of the robbery quickly spreads through the small Chinese town, prompting everyone to begin searching for Xiao Zhang in hopes of themselves pocketing the stolen money. The long, rainy night eventually turns bloody with so much money on the line.
The plot is slight, and the run time brief, but Liu Jian’s film packs a surprising punch. Like the film itself, the animation is simple, but very effective, evoking the harsh, drab landscape in which the film takes place. Each character has their motivations, though money is often motivation enough. Poor Xiao Zhang for wanting to help provide a better life for him and his girlfriend. Poor girlfriend who had a botched plastic surgery. I think these two characters, one seen and one unseen, go a long way to explaining why such a robbery would take place in the first place, and the desperation of small, blue collar town.
The proceedings are moody and drab, as I have already mentioned, but they are brightened somehow by the cool tones of the Shanghai Restoration Project, who provide an essence of cool to the film, making it a gangster, crime movie akin to something Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino would make, but broken down to the bare essentials to make it work. There is very little fluff and wasted time throughout. Not that Scorsese or Tarantino are necessarily wasteful, but decadent. Have a Nice Day is anything but decadent in its presentation. However, the animation is a strength of the film, even without the bells and whistles we’ve become so accustomed to in America from computer animation.
Liu Jian manages to infuse a sense of doom in the film simply by pausing at the right times, and using some really neatly designed sounds, like the ring of a cellphone. It’s a really impressive American debut (his previous film, Piercing I never graced American screens), and one which tickles me curious to see what his next project might entail, such that he might build off the successes here and craft a truly memorable, lasting film. As is, Have a Nice Day is a searing animated film not for the faint of heart. It is not an easy viewing, but one which will reward the concentrated and devoted audience, one looking to be exposed to a rather unique and promising cinematic voice.