Set in lower income, working class neighborhoods in Southern China, the animated film Have a Nice Day is almost wistful as it wonders, ‘If a large bag of money dropped into my lap, what would I do with it?’
The answer is straightforward, if selfish: ‘Keep it and keep others from getting it!’ Yet it starts with a young man who wants to do something positive with the money: He wants to pay for his girlfriend’s plastic surgery. But it’s not, evidently, because he doesn’t like how she looks.
Rather, he and his girlfriend have been planning to marry and she decided to get plastic surgery, which went horribly wrong as far as she was concerned. She is very unhappy and has holed up in her apartment, not wanting anyone to see how she looks. (Her mother agrees with her.)
Now working as a driver at a construction site owned by a local gangster, the young man is enlisted to deliver a criminal henchman to a bank and back with a large, large sum of money in cash in an unlocked bag. Unable to resist such temptation, he holds up the henchman steals the money. Thus begins a mad caravel of temptations and opportunities which no one is able to resist.
In the opening scenes of the film, though, all we see is a man stealing money and making a run for it. Writer and director Liu Jian then begins introducing other characters and, with time, the individuals and their relationships to each other become more clear, and a pattern is revealed. The filmmaker is far more interested in comparing and contrasting the characters than in making a transparent narrative.
Still, Have a Nice Day is rather propulsive in its storytelling, and if the plot details are not always easy to follow, that may be in part because the style of animation is more vibrant, if rudimentary, than has become customary in Hollywood studio product.
To be fair, Disney and Pixar and Blue Sky and the like are primarily targeting the widest possible audiences worldwide: children and their parents. In contrast, Have a Nice Day was, I believe, made primarily by Liu Jian himself over a period of five years! Talk about a labor of love…
It all pays off, though, in a film that tells a compelling story that feels very authentic to the experience of working-class people (such as myself, even in a country far, far away from China). It’s a lively tale, refreshing and rewarding.
The film opens via Strand Releasing in Dallas and Plano on Friday, March 2 at the Alamo Drafthouse and the Angelika Film Center Plano.