Have a Nice Day (2017)

Review #1,554

Director:  Liu Jian
Cast:  Zhu Changlong, Cao Kai, Liu Jian
Plot:  A city in southern China and a bag containing a million yuan draw several people from diverse backgrounds with different personal motives into a bloody conflict.

Genre:  Animation / Crime / Comedy
Awards:  Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlin).  Won 1 Golden Horse - Best Animated Feature.  Nom. for 2 Golden Horses - Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Song
Runtime:  77 mins
Rating:  PG13 (passed clean) for some coarse language
International Sales:  Memento Films (rest of the world) / Edko Films (selected Asian territories)
Singapore Distributor:  Anticipate Pictures

We don’t really hear much about Mainland Chinese arthouse animation, so the existence of something like Have a Nice Day feels like a jolt of lighting conjured up in thin air, and such is its novelty (and not least because it is a pretty good film) that it premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival last year to acclaim.

A few months later at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival (one of the top-tier animation festivals in the world), Liu Jian's film wasn’t so lucky—the Chinese government asked for it to be withdrawn.  Edits were also made for release in some territories, but thanks to Vincent Quek of Anticipate Pictures, our golden boy of indie distribution, Singaporeans will be privy to the original cut from Berlin.

Running at a short 77 minutes, Have a Nice Day packs quite a fair bit of material, and in some scenes, a visceral punch to the gut, in a film that has been described by ‘Indiewire’ as one that Tarantino might have pulled off if he remade Pulp Fiction (1994) in animation and set it in modern day China.  That might suggest that Liu’s work is explicitly violent and vulgar, but as its PG13 rating would attest, it is not exactly a bloodbath of any kind.

Still, its impact comes from the gradual building up of tension as Liu brings a multitude of characters together for a climactic confrontation.  How he does it is a testament to the virtue of economic storytelling and editing where he gives us a barebone plot—there’s a bag containing a million yuan, so what happens next?—that sufficiently justifies itself through the artistic simplicity of the medium.

Here, the animation—in its noir-ish and sometimes campy beauty—is the meat to the skeleton.  Its striking visuals fill the storytelling gaps by mixing the socio-political underbelly of a backward town with the farcicality of its conniving inhabitants, thus giving viewers a richly-depicted setting steeped in crime and greed.

Largely animated by Liu himself, a painstaking task that took five years, Have a Nice Day is not just a commentary on politics and social conflict, but of capitalism and materialism.  In the film’s world, money is everything, and life is trivial insofar as it is marked by being out of (or in) luck.

Verdict:  Liu Jian’s second animated feature is a black crime-comedy with striking visuals that mixes the socio-political underbelly of a backward town with the farcicality of its conniving inhabitants.





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