Have a Nice Day (Hao Ji Le): ‘Reservoir Dogs’ meets ‘Loveless’

Review: One-man band Liu Jian’s three-year labour of love is a crime saga that fizzes with intellect

‘Have a Nice Day’ is populated by desperate, violent people who are motivated and victimised by capitalism

Film Title: Have a Nice Day

Director: Liu Jian

Starring: Yang Siming, Cao Kou, Ma Xiaofeng, Zhu Changlong, Cao Kai

Genre: Animation

Running Time: 78 min

Fri, May 11, 2018, 05:00

   

Don’t mind that title. Nobody is having a nice day in Chinese animator Liu Jian’s gritty, gut-wrenching crime saga. It took three years for him to draw and animate Have a Nice Day, frame by frame, with humour and vigour, and a junkyard aesthetic, but it would still be a stunning achievement had he an entire studio of scribblers at his disposal.

It takes a special kind of film for critics to repeatedly reference both Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless in their reviews. There are indisputable, improbable overlaps with both.

In an unlovely Chinese city, two construction workers double-job as delivery boys for a local hoodlum. Their banter is disturbed when the younger man, Xiao Zhang (Zhu Changlong), puts a knife to his colleague’s neck, and makes off with a suitcase filled with a million yuen (just under $150,000) of the boss’s money.

This plainly doomed plan is thoughtlessly executed so that his fiancee can go to Korea for corrective plastic surgery after her last round of plastic surgery went wrong. Sadistic mobsters – including the elderly Uncle Liu (Yang Shiming) and Skinny (Ma Xiaofeng) are duly dispatched. The real star, however, is the swag, and we follow the money as it is passed from one undeserving person to another, each with increasingly ludicrous ideas as to its spending.   

One has to marvel that the film-maker is getting his work past China’s State Administration of Radio Film and Television, a body that grades work against Confucian ideals and likelihood to engender social cohesion.

Liu Jian’s hand-drawn 2008 debut film, Piercing – in which an unemployed factory worker seeks financial redress from the supermarket where a security guard has mistakenly beaten him up – offered a rare insight in China’s financial crisis. The director’s second film is no less scathing in its depiction of post-communist malaise.

The dingy, derelict southern city where the gangster capering of Have a Nice Day plays out is populated by desperate, violent people who are motivated and victimised by capitalism. One character chillingly explains freedom in three stages: there’s local market freedom, then supermarket freedom, and finally the ne plus ultra that is “online shopping freedom”.

In common with the protagonist of Piercing, these people want to get away: away to Korea, away to a luxury resort called Shangri-La, away to the farms and villages they originally came from.  

In recent years we’ve seen some impressive politically themed animated films, such as Waltz with Bashir and Persepolis. But nobody is making films quite like Liu Jian. Have a Nice Day fizzles with intellect and references to Donald Trump, Brexit, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. It opens with a quote from Leo Tolstoy’s Resurrection. The marvellous soundtrack by Shanghai Restoration Project fuses traditional Chinese instruments with hip hop and electronica, and references Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther.