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Have a Nice Day (2017) written and directed by Jian Liu

A missing million

This animated Chinese crime drama begins as a driver named Xiao Zhang (voiced by Changlong Zhu) steals a suitcase containing 1 million Yuan Renminbi of cash which belongs to gang boss Uncle Liu (Siming Yang). He intends to use this money to pay for his girlfriend to travel to South Korea in order to rectify a botched cosmetic surgery operation.

Needless to say, Liu isn’t happy that his money has been stolen, so he decides to send a hitman to track him down. However, when various other characters around his impoverished hometown get wind of his (stolen) windfall, the situation becomes something of a free-for-all as each of them fights to take it for themselves.

Watch a trailer:

Another side of China

This award-winning Chinese animated feature is nothing if not artistically striking. Visually, it adopts a kind of cel-shaded pop-art style which is both aesthetically very pleasing and emphasises the inherent grit within its deprived small-town environments. Despite the crime theme, it’s less of an action-thriller and more a series of atmospheric vignettes which paint out the various characters and the environments in which they inhabit. A lizard scurries across a train track. The hitman attends to his day job chopping up meat in a warehouse. An internet cafe is staffed by unenthusiastic jobsworth attendants who are only interested in whether or not you pay their hourly rates. Cracked roads are navigated by boxy old cars.

Uncle Liu and Joker faces in Have a Nice Day

The side of China depicted here is one far removed from the economic miracle of futuristic skyscrapers and the nouveau riche. It’s a China of cramped, dank apartments, endemic crime and dreams of opportunity which never quite turn to reality. At the same time, it’s one enlivened by fascinating interjections of pop culture. These range from neat background details (a Bruce Lee poster hangs randomly on a wall, while the back of Liu’s office is covered by paintings of an endless succession of Joker lookalikes) to some moments of unexpected full-on exuberance as two of the characters here imagine themselves in a gaudy pop video which homages Communist propaganda. One of the oddest elements, however, is an inventor character who has created a variety of gadgets which would make James Bond proud, amongst them being the X-ray glasses which he wears. His appearance is particularly strange in what is a largely a low-key and realistic affair. However, the fact that he uses his creativity for petty theft rather than for anything more noble or ambitious fits right in with everyone else here.

A homage to Communist propaganda in Have a Nice Day

However, as beautiful as it is to look at, and as fascinating as it is in its depiction of the struggling half of a developing economy, Have a Nice Day doesn’t quite deliver as a story. It could be that none of its characters give us enough reasons to empathise with their (seriously questionable) actions. Perhaps it’s because Jian Liu’s script suffers from a case of Tarantino-itis, piling up a slew of dei ex machina in lieu of a naturally-flowing plot. Or… maybe it’s the occasional moments of baffling self-indulgence - such as the sequence where Zhang is incapacitated and imagines nothing but lapping water and tranquil music for what feels like forever.

Still, if nothing else, Have a Nice Day carves out a distinctive stylistic niche that’s hard to dismiss. Perhaps Jian Liu’s next film (School Town which, according to IMDB, is currently in production) will use this to better effect.

Runtime: 77 mins

Dir: Jian Liu

Script: Jian Liu

Voices: Changlong Zhu, Kai Cao, Jian Liu, Siming Yang, Haitao Shi

Rating: ☆☆☆

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