Berlinale 2017: Entertaining Animated Chinese Film 'Have a Nice Day'
by Alex Billington
February 17, 2017
Imagine if Quentin Tarantino was Chinese and made an animated crime drama. That's kind of what Have a Nice Day feels like, in a way. Have a Nice Day (originally titled Hao ji le in Chinese) is a film from director Jian Liu that just premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in the main competition line-up. The animation style is closer to "Archer" or A Scanner Darkly, and the film is sort of a Coen Brothers-esque story about a bunch of people in a small Chinese town who get mixed up chasing a bag of money. There are a few minor political themes, but it's fairly light entertainment, with some fun moments and colorful characters. Oddly enough, this film is better than half of what I saw in competition at the Berlin Film Festival, even if isn't that smart.
When a gangster's bag containing a million yuan goes missing, a different assortment of shady characters end up in the mix in a small town in southern China. Jian Liu's Have a Nice Day is split into four different chapters, each one introducing new people who end up chasing the money. There isn't much time spent on exposition or introduction, but not much of an introduction is needed, as we know all of them are in pursuit of the cash (or perhaps a small share of it for recovering it safely). The script reminds me of Tarantino's earlier films as a fairly simple, straightforward story of gangsters and hitmen, with a smattering of violence throughout and seedy locations (including an internet cafe). It ends rather abruptly, but it's still enjoyable.
As enjoyable as it is, I was hoping there might be more complex themes or political commentary in the film. It lacked nuance, which is hard to portray with animation, but nonetheless it is too light. There seemed to be so much potential in telling a story of Chinese gangsters and greed as an animated movie, addressing some of the bigger problems with Chinese culture, but it never reaches that potential. So many (Chinese) films have already discussed greed and an obsession with money that telling this kind of story is only scratching the surface, and with so many different characters, there could've been more intelligent commentary. The animation isn't that impressive, but it does make the film entertaining to watch at least - and that's a plus.
Have a Nice Day is a unique experiment in filmmaking and deserves to be acknowledged for its creativity. Every once in a while it's fun to put on a gangster story and watch some people get whacked in various ways. I don't expect the film to end up breaking out at the box office, but hopefully it finds an audience. Aside from the story itself, I was most impressed by the music from a group known as The Shanghai Restoration Project (official website here). As light entertainment, it's a good film worthy of your time to discover. As political commentary, it doesn't have much to say. That said, I hope we see even more unique work like this from China (and other countries) that plays with different genres and still remains entertaining in the end.
Alex's Berlinale 2017 Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing