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Have a Nice Day

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/21/17 00:51:48

"A lean, mean, animated bag of money tale."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: For all that modern Chinese films spend a lot of time and effort on showing people spending money, I don't know if I've actually seen enough actual bills on-screen for it to register that the 100-yuan note is blood red. "Have a Nice Day", an animated take on the bag-of-money yarn, doesn't quite get the mileage it might from this fact, but it's an impressively tidy take on the form, not wasting any time getting things started and then managing as many reversals through greedy stupidity as it does from actual cunning.

It doesn't mess around with a master plan, starting with construction-site driver Xiao Zhang (voice of Zhu Changlong) having already pulled a gun on passenger Lao Zhao (voice of Cao Kai). His plan is to meet girlfriend Yan Zi and travel to South Korea to fix her botched cosmetic surgery, but Lao Zhao was bringing this money to gangster "Uncle Liu" (voice of Yang Siming), who immediately dispatches butcher and hitman Brother Skinny (voice of Ma Xiaofeng) to recover it. Even if Xiao can stay ahead of Skinny, he makes the rookie mistake of paying for something with one of those large bills, attracting the attention of inventor Yellow Eye (voice of Cao Kou) and his girlfriend (Zheng Yi), while Yan Zi's worried mother asks niece Ann Ann and her boyfriend Lidu to check on things, but when you hear "one million yuan", you maybe do more than check.

The money doesn't actually change hands very often, and when it does, the people holding it often spend a fair amount of time off-screen; Have a Nice Day is about the scramble . It brings out mean little chuckles, pointing up a sort of blanket amorality permeating society, with even bystanders chatting about start-ups and how to succeed while skipping steps, although it's not without cause: A brilliant inventor is stymied because he did not start out rich enough, and even Ann Ann's good communist fantasy (which literally inserts her and Lidu into propaganda posters and songs) seems to be out of reach without seed money. It's a weird irony that the original theft arguably happens not out of greed, but an attempt to back out of a problem caused by vanity, although that sort of desire is arguably its own sort of greed. It's an odd set of motivations, never actually sympathetic enough to be called noble or heroic, but shaded more toward desperation than ruthlessness.

One of the interesting things about it being animated is that the filmmakers can make it a grimy little film while still giving it a garishly colorful look, not necessarily hinting that this run-down town has seen better days - it may be one of those new cities that has sprung up but never actually thrived - but not giving it the crisp style of a film noir. It gives them room for the characters to be kind of asymmetrical and exaggerated, with Uncle Liu actually having a Fu Manchu mustache without it seeming like an unrealistic affectation, and the violence to be realistically ugly while still piling up in absurd ways. It's a heightened reality, though not quite a fantasy, despite some elements that may suggest otherwise, with a memorable score by Shanghai Restoration Project providing the occasional boost.

All the subtext and style comes in support of a story steps forward in impressively steady fashion, as filmmaker Jian Liu, whose name is absolutely everywhere on the credits, does an excellent job of adding new players without too often feeling like the film is being overburdened or that things from the start have gotten lost (though I admit it took me a second to realize when things had come full circle to Lao Zhao), leaving a little room for randomness while still hewing close to things happening because folks are often greedy and dumb. It never really feels like he's doing a slow burn until the final pile-up speeds things up in the same way he's judicious with obvious black humor.

Being animated helps with that tightness, as each individual frame is more work, perhaps providing a reason why this movie comes in at a lean 77 minutes and doesn't waste any of them. It's a rare crime film that moves this well while still having the occasional moment to wax philosophical, and having so much of this come directly from Jian Liu makes him a Chinese filmmaker to keep one's eyes on.

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