Since the 1980s, China has been a country undergoing almost constant change. A new neon-lit world has become more industrial, capitalist and distant. This state of change underpins everything in Jian Liu’s Have a Nice Day. When one million Yuen is stolen, the lives of a colourful range of people come crashing together in violent and blackly funny ways. Everyone from a plastic surgery patient to an old man with futuristic x-ray glasses find their lives drastically changed. All the while Chairman Mao is staring back at them from the bills of money, as if reminding them of their senseless greed.
The story jumps between the sombre to the surreal and the just plain strange, a dream sequence in the style of a Chinese state advertisement campaign being an especially bewildering sight. That being said, Have a Nice Day is not extravagant in either its message or plot. Although there are several characters to keep up with, it is never difficult to keep tabs on what is happening. Some of the conversations between minor characters also capture the mood nicely; disinterested discussions about deities and freedom, ambitions of making money or moving away. Some in this unnamed Chinese city dream of escaping to anywhere except where they are. These moments are scattered throughout the movie, and while they are certainly thought-provoking, it amounts to more of a presentation of ideas rather than a detailed exploration.
The animation varies in quality, although as a series of moving tableaus it can be quite effective. For a film full of so many different characters, the best shots are those without people. The grey hue embedded in images of the city streets, with dilapidated store fronts and shiny posters for the Olympic Games ripped and peeling off the wall, make for some of the film’s most quietly impressive moments.
This is disrupted by the arrival of human characters, who are rendered somewhere in between lifelike resemblances and ridiculous caricatures, never quite becoming either. The 2D imaging can make character movements jerky, or sometimes they just don’t move at all and it feels a bit unnatural. While vexing after a while, it does at least fit well with the uncanny reality constructed within the modest running time. It’s a world that can be difficult to recognise, so perhaps a look that you can’t quite appreciate isn’t such a bad thing.
Animations with a deeper philosophical message are out there, as are ones completed with considerably more sophistication and flair. Still, this is a stylish crime thriller that manages to say a lot with very little, and it finds time to dwell on what all those disfigured cityscapes and dreams mean for a nation in flux.
HAVE A NICE DAY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JIAN LIU / SCREENPLAY: JIAN LIU / STARRING: CHANGLONG ZHU, KAI CAO, JIAN LIU, SIMING YANG, HAITAO SHI / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW