Sleek in its industrial animation, Jian Liu’s Have A Nice Day makes up for a lack of substance with style.
Money Monsterby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Animation has a hard time of it these days. Much like the documentary format, we expect some kind of formalistic explanation of the choice of medium, which outside of kids’ films and the furthering of CGI craftsmanship, becomes increasingly difficult to answer. Aside from some animated tricks; smoke, rain, cigarette smoke and neon lights, Jian Liu’s Have A Nice Day restrains itself to virtually static drawings, as we follow Xiao Zhang on his journey, stealing a bag of cash from triad boss Uncle Liu, losing it again and eventually regaining it. It’s the kind of story that usually involves some kind of spiritual progression, that would require Xiao Zhang by the end to no longer be the same loser he was at the beginning. In Jian Liu’s film however, this isn’t really the case and its protagonist is buffeted by chance, saved only by his good intentions – to take his girlfriend to Korea and pay for corrective plastic surgery.
Instead, Have A Nice Day is buoyed by a raft of topical references – from Brexit and Trump’s acceptance speech heard briefly on the radio to start-ups and the rousing speeches of Steve Jobs. Much like the seam of humour that runs through the film, it’s ancillary rather than integral though, and Have A Nice Day struggles to engage beyond these dog whistles. The animation is starkly beautiful, offering detailed landscapes of Chinese factories and faceless industrial towns, mostly taking place during an oddly attractive twilight. Perhaps the film’s most startling moment is its switch to film to witness the crepuscular light changes over the sea. But again, it feels like a floating addition; a formalistic trick to raise the profile of this simple story. Nevertheless, Have A Nice Day is entertaining enough, with its reflections on the power balance between God and Buddha or the three economies of freedom; the farmer’s market (limited only to what’s available), the supermarket (limited only to what one can afford) and (unlimited) online shopping. And with its karaoke fantasy of Shangri-La, Have A Nice Day is both deliciously quixotic and unique in its representation of modern-day China.
Have A Nice Day is now showing at the 67th Berlin Film Festival