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For the last two years, I have seen China start to put their foot down, and really compete with animation. While not a great movie, The Monkey King: Hero is Back was a competent action-adventure flick that raked in millions. Big Fish & Begonia, a decade old 2D-animated film is getting positive reviews, and is coming out this year thanks to Funimation and Shout! Factory. In general, it’s good to see that they want to put a lot of effort into their future projects, and not just coax by on cheap-animated schlock. Another animated film that I was looking forward to coming out in the states was Have a Nice Day. Directed by Liu Jian, Have a Nice Day made waves in the news when it was pulled from the Annecy Film Festival last year by the Chinese government. This caused a huge controversial backlash toward the country, because not only was China the guest country at the festival, but it was also considered a move of censorship by the country. While it was winning awards around the festival circuit, is Have a Nice Day worth the hype and controversy? Well, kind of. Let’s dive in.
Have a Nice Day is a dark comedy with a mix of social commentary revolving around a cab driver who robs someone of $150 grand in US currency to help his girlfriend in South Korea with her plastic surgery. Unfortunately for him, that money belonged to a mob boss, and it then turns into this mad dash between multiple characters to get that money from one another.
Let’s talk about the most standout aspect of Have a Nice Day, the animation. Now, usually, I consider animation to be moving drawn pictures, or CGI models moving around. Have a Nice Day really stretches the terms of animation. A lot of the films are in still frames with mouths staying open when they talk. There is some movement, but it’s more like an underground motion comic. I can perfectly understand why this might turn people off. It all looks fine, but it’s as if you took still frames, and took inspiration from the animation philosophy from Adult Swim’s early days. I can understand if this was done on a shoe-string budget, and there wasn’t enough left over for the animation, but this will definitely put people off. I know I have given the country flack for its bad animation, and while this one was probably more due to artistic decisions or budget limitations, it’s almost not an animated film. I know that sounds sort of gate-keeping to not call it animation, but once you see the trailer for this film, it’s understandable.
So, since the animation is hugely kneecapped, what does this film have to counter-balance for the lack of animation? Thankfully, the best aspect of the movie is the dialogue. While you are definitely looking at a bunch of still frames, the dialogue between characters is interesting. It has a few solid jokes thrown in from time to time that are legit funny. It’s also interesting to see a bunch of the characters, major and minor, talk about money, and how China looks at money. Maybe that’s why it was pulled from the festival, but I personally found nothing offensive about this film, but I’m a white guy from Texas, so what do I know? It reminds me of The Rabbi’s Cat, since that film also had some odd animation, but you were kept invested with the film’s dialogue. The film also has a build-up to an immensely funny punchline at the end, but I won’t spoil it here.
While I did find admiration that this was a mostly one-man job, I think my favorite aspect of the sound design was the music. Yes, there is one really random musical sequence in the film, but my favorite bit of music was the opening song by The Shanghai Restoration Project. It had a nice jazzy blues feel that fit over the decrepit and broken side of China. If anyone is curious, the track is called Dark Horse. While the animation was fairly, um, still, I found the acting to be pretty solid. I won’t say I remember one person being better than the other, but the chemistry between everyone felt cohesive. It was interesting to see how the acting would gel with the limited animation, and I was not all that distracted by it. Then again, I knew going in that this film would live and die by its dialogue and character interaction.
Now then, let’s talk about the downsides. The animation is going to split people so hard down the middle. On one hand, it’s a style, and the director worked within his limitations of budget and time, while using more artistic liberties with what can be considered “animation”. On the other hand, it feels pointless to make this an animated film, because of how limiting the animation is. Sure, you can get the gestures and movements from the simple frames, but at the same time, it’s really pushing the definition of animation. It’s definitely going to distract a lot of people, and whether this was a purposeful decision or not, I did find myself at points being pulled out of the experience. While I love the entire punchline to the film at the end, it is a grind to get there. It’s not a very long movie, but it takes its time slow-burning its way to the finish line. It also does that thing where it cuts off at the end, leaving the ending to be up in the air in terms of what exactly happened after the big climatic sequence. I mean, sure, you can pick up what might have happened, but I think the film would have worked better with more closure. Then again, I know this technique is popular among many filmmakers like Tarantino, so your mileage may vary with the ending.
While I was definitely happy to have a Movie Pass for this film, I’m still very glad I went out and supported it. It’s good to support original films and smaller creators if their films are showing in theaters in your area. I’m happy to see Chinese animation get ambitious with their goals with the medium, and while Have a Nice Day doesn’t check off all the boxes, it’s a way more important and interesting movie that’s out right now than 50 Shades Freed and that pointless Death Wish remake. If you can find a way to watch it, I would definitely recommend checking it out. Just look up the trailer for the film first to see if you might be into it. Well, let’s continue the support of animated films from overseas and look at the Annie Award-winning and Oscar-nominated The Breadwinner. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.
Rating: Rent It!