Xiao Zhang is a small time delivery boy for a local gangster in provincial Southern China. In a moment of desperation he steals a bag containing 1 million yuen from his violent boss. As word gets round this dead end town over one night, disparate and desperate characters hunt Xiao Zhang and the money to escape their humdrum existence.
This animated Chinese neo-noir Have A Nice Day is self-consciously cool and existential. It is a fatalistic fable about capitalism and globalism in modern China, all wrapped up in a crime story set in the deep underbelly of Chinese society. With a consistent stoic tone and slow rhythm, director Liu Jian manages to balance a hard boiled style but also avoids cliché. Jian has a strong visual voice, mixing sparse animation and sound design to tell his story in his already well-developed individual style, the film being only his second feature.
The animation is pared down, every frame is carefully constructed with lots of advertisements promising better lives while foregrounded by the mundane reality of locations like a run-down internet café or a cheap hotel. This is coupled with lots of silent moments or sparse individual sound effects. The dominance of silence increases the impact of when we do hear music, ring tones or a Trump speech blaring out of some radio speaker. The minimalistic visual and audio fits the the animation's stark style, allowing for key details to be highlighted. Sometimes the action takes place off-screen (we tellingly never see or hear a key character) using just sound effects to guide us, on the flipside we see other sequences where the action unfolds without any dialogue.
Though sold as an animated Pulp Fiction due to the interlocking stories, with its range of cynical characters and moments of nasty violence this is more like Blood Simple or Fargo with a touches of both Jim Jarmuscsh and Beat Takeshi films at their most laconic. Much like the Coen classics, the location of a small town in Southern China is an important character in itself and helps drive the narrative forward. The film wears its influences on its sleeve.
The characters are none-too bright and there isn't really a protagonist. We slowly understand each character's desperation as they chase the money. Xiao Zhang just wants to get his fiancé to South Korea to fix a disasterous plastic surgery procedure. Skinny, a butcher turned gangster hired by Xiao's boss (who is busy torturing an old friend), is just a proud and efficient mercenary with a reputation to uphold. Skinny dresses like a Tarentino hitman and his weapon of choice is a delightfully retro use of chloroform which points to No Country For Old Men's inventive use of the cattle gun. Yellow Eye is an inventor who plans to use the money to kickstart his tech start up, whereas his wife just wants to move to the city. Ann Ann, a greedy punk chick, is actually Xiao Zhang's girlfriend's cousin but once she realises he has the money, decides to go for it herself in order to go to a dreamlike holiday resort. At its best moments, Have a Nice Day stops to let characters talk for a while as they chase their cynical desires with mostly violent consequences.
Though visually witty, Have a Nice Day tries a little too hard to be cool and is missing a key component of its influences. It takes itself a little too seriously and sorely lacks a sense of humour leaving the experience a little empty. Perhaps that is the point.
Have a Nice Day is out now.
Words by Hamza Mohsin @lebadass.
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