There have been two Chinese animated features released this year that are polar opposites in terms of style and genre, but have had a pretty big impact on me as a viewer. The first was Big Fish & Begonia, which has issues but is visually stunning to behold. The second is Liu Jian’s Have a Nice Day, which is nowhere near as pretty as the former film, but makes a strong statement on humanity’s obsession with consumerism. It’s a pity that neither received much exposure here in the U.S., but I’m sure in the years to come, they will both develop cult followings. And, in the case of Have a Nice Day, it’s all the more reason why there needs to be more animated features geared toward adults.
Liu’s film is essentially what would happen if Quentin Tarantino wanted to make an animated film. I keep imagining how it would look if it was live action, and it’s safe to say that it would certainly not be the same. It would actually be rather uninspiring if pursued in that fashion. Liu’s approach to storytelling is heavily inspired by Tarantino, and it shows in the way that the film is broken into different chapters throughout and how there are long conversations that are critical of societal factors. But it should also be noted that the film works well on its own, and not just as a Tarantino-esque animated feature. It’s bleak, but it’s also got a pretty big bite to go with it. And there are many situations and lines of dialogue that are darkly hilarious.
The main story involves a man named Xiao Zhang. He steals one million Remninbi ($150,000 USD) from his boss to fund his girlfriend’s plastic surgery after a previous operation was botched. Xiao loves his girlfriend a lot, and plans on marrying her. But this stunt lands him in hot water with a bunch of other people, including some gangsters, who want the money for themselves.
Have a Nice Day weaves several different stories together quite nicely about desperate people who think the only way to achieve pure happiness is by obtaining what is in the bag. Although the story is set in a rundown section of China, the film serves as a commentary for global issues. There is one particular conversation about freedom that is rather intriguing to hear. A character breaks the word down into three different categories that showcase a person’s right to choose how he or she prefers to shop.
There isn’t a moment of Have a Nice Day that could be considered as “pretty,” and that’s not a negative statement. The animation is simple, cell-shaded artwork that seems to have been digitally rendered and is appropriately edited to almost seem choppy at certain moments. For example, characters that throw punches appear to do it one frame at a time. It’s fitting for the movie’s grim feel, and, in the end, it does look rather striking.
The DVD for Have a Nice Day doesn’t have any features, aside from its theatrical trailer and other trailers for Strand Releasing movies. It’s unfortunate, because I would have loved to have seen some behind-the-scenes material and a making of featurette.
Have a Nice Day is worth checking out for any fans of Chinese animation, as well as Tarantino fans. The only really upbeat part of the movie is its soundtrack from The Shanghai Restoration Project, which becomes an earworm the moment it is first heard. But even through all of the bleakness, Liu finds a way to incorporate some effective and timely humor. This is a brilliantly crafted animated feature, and one that is deserving of a larger fan base.