Tag Archives: china

Review: ‘Have a Nice Day’

dfn-haveaniceday-300Set 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.

Review: ‘The Great Wall’

dfn-great_wall-300Despite the advertising that makes it look like Bourne in China, The Great Wall is best considered as the latest action spectacle from Zhang Yimou.

After more than a dozen years of crafting finely-honed, modestly-produced dramas such as Raise the Red Lantern and The Road Home, Zhang came under fire for abandoning the art house circuit to make Hero, starring Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi and Donnie Yen. In the wake of the international success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the film sounded like a rip-off, featuring martial arts fighting and battles between massive armies.

Zhang, however, applied his cinematic artistry to the familiar tale. Hero, followed by House of Flying Daggers, showcased the rarely-utilized possibilities for blockbusters. Zhang’s flamboyant use of color looked absolutely spectacular when multiplied by visual effects and spread across a widescreen vista.

The deliberate pace of Zhang’s blockbusters are very effective in a theatrical setting, the better to appreciate the play of color and detail. The director next made Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, followed by Curse of the Golden Flower, a fabulous one-two punch that contrasted a simple drama with a visually elegant period picture.

His contributions to the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games, held in Beijing, were, again, spectacular. After that, he remade the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple as A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop, a bold attempt that fell short, and made the historical war movie The Flowers of War starring Christian Bale, a rather dull and plodding affair.

Now comes The Great Wall, arriving in the U.S. amid accusations of ‘whitewashing.’ Reportedly budgeted at $150 million, the film certainly reflects the money spent, especially in the higher quality of the visual effects, which revolve around an army of CG monsters that attack every 60 years.

Because it’s not based on a pre-existing property, one imagines a Hollywood star was a prerequisite and so we have Matt Damon on hand. He plays William, a European trader in company with his longtime business partner Tovar (Pedro Pascal). Along a trade route one day, William and Tovar encounter a strange sort of beast that William manages to kill. They approach the Great Wall, where their motives come under serious fire by the massive armed forces that are assembled there. Soon enough, they are marked for death, but before that can transpire, the wall comes under attack by thousands of monstrous beasts.

Having acquitted themselves well in battle, William and Tovar are begrudgingly accepted by the large army. They learn that Ballard (Willem Dafoe), a grizzled character, has been stuck there for 25 years, and they do not wish to share his fate, but they must bide their time.

Ballard taught English to Commander Lin (Jing Tian), so she serves as William’s translator and guide. William is more open to his new surroundings than Tovar, which affects how they each respond as the valley below the wall keeps filling with monsters.

The armed forces at the wall are led by General Shao (Zhang Hanyu), with Commander Lin as his second-in-command — she commands an all-female regiment of warriors — and his other commanders include Wu (Eddie Peng), Chen (Kenny Lin), and Deng (Huang Xuan). Strategist Wang (Andy Lau) provides expert military advice in a senior role.

Though William provides a couple of key strategic suggestions, he only becomes more central to the battle planning because of attrition. The troops are all dedicated, loyal and obedient to their commanders; there are no cowards on the wall. Commander Lin’s respected position is notable, especially as far as diversity is concerned. Really, when thousands of monsters are attacking, all that matters is teamwork and individual courage.

The screenplay is credited to the writing duo of Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro, and also Tony Gilroy, the latter of whom is responsible for writing the Bourne movies. The story is credited to Max Brooks (?!), Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz. The collaborative effort is very well structured and the timely comic relief certainly comes in handy when things threaten to become too dark.

Truth be told, I was ready to suffer through a lackluster affair when I sat down for The Great Wall. It definitely far exceeded my admittedly modest expectations and made me glad I’d seen it on a big screen.

The film is now playing in theaters throughout Dallas.