Film Review: Have a Nice Day

Director Liu Jian’s fierce determination to out-Tarantino Tarantino results in a heartlessly clever, blood-spattered cartoon noir portrait of a modern China ruled by avarice.
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Money and the desperate need for it dominate Liu Jian‘s Have a Nice Day, a scathing animated portrait of the new China. Driver Zhang Xiao (voiced by Zhu Changlong) has stolen a considerable wad of cash from a mob boss in order to pay for a trip to South Korea to fix his girlfriend’s botched plastic surgery. His “gallant” act, somewhat reminiscent of Al Pacino’s m.o. in Sidney Lumet’s masterpiece Dog Day Afternoon, has serious repercussions with not only the mobster but seemingly everyone in town, equally venal and in hot pursuit of Zhang.

Jian’s determination to make the most unrelentingly hard-core modern noir cartoon of them all has both its rewards and drawbacks. The animation itself, although relatively crude, benefits from the richly detailed, grungy backgrounds against which the action of this underworld saga takes place. That stolen $150,000 changes hands with jaw-dropping speed. Zhang is first robbed of it by a would-be inventor, who gets himself electrocuted and whose girlfriend then makes off with it. As they so often so in this genre, wild coincidences abound, which can produce both groans and gasps of delighted recognition from the viewer.

But, as with certain of Tarantino’s ilk, you are continually asked to to stay absorbed in this nefariousness, watching characters attack one another, get brutally tortured and then flung aside like so much used Kleenex, as a myriad of pop references--ranging from The Godfather, Deadpool, Steve Jobs and Brexit to the current idiot in the White House--get thrown about. For committed genre freaks, that’s not a problem. But for anybody seeking at least a modicum of humanity to identify with in the midst of all the greed-fueled mayhem, this manic, at times schizophrenic work is a challenge, to put it mildly.

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