Have A Nice Day

In opening with a quote from Tolstoy's "Resurrection", Have A Nice Day sets the stage for social inquiry. Before the first frame of animation appears, a target is placed on men who have wrought havoc on the planet by "... paving the ground with stones so that nothing could grow, weeding out every blade of vegetation, filling the air with the fumes of coal and gas...", and so on. For familiar readers (or especially keen scholars of Google), a following portion of the quote that is not displayed proves even more enlightening: "... what they considered sacred and important were their own devices for wielding power over each other." A heavy start for a cartoon.

Early images don't provide an outlook any less bleak. Decrepit cityscapes are rendered in rich detail, grey and drab and lit only by the few bulbs that can still manage to flicker. In the background nothing moves but the rain, a distinctive stylistic choice that is mixed with more simplistic but still mostly static foreground pieces. It's here, in this film noir comic book by way of not-quite-stop-motion, that a crime narrative sprouts that is both convoluted yet incredibly simple. Uncle Liu is a gangster who is waiting on a delivery of one million yuan. Xiao Zhang steals it. Then, it's stolen again. And again. And then... well, it's best just to buckle up and watch. As new side characters enter, each more absurd than the last — with names like Skinny and Yellow Eye, and dressed in trenchcoats and cross-trainers, or outfitted with x-ray glasses — their interactions and irregularities call to mind Guy Ritchie in his prime. For good measure, there's also a patented Tarantino "trunk shot".

 
 The characters of  Have A Nice Day  are weird, wide-ranging, and wickedly fun.

The characters of Have A Nice Day are weird, wide-ranging, and wickedly fun.

 

So, what of the Tolstoy quote, then? Slower moments of dialogue between scenes of action reveal some motive. With hardly an exception, the characters are driven by status. Bill Gates. Steve Jobs. Mark Zuckerberg. These are the names on their minds as they complain about their lowly stations as security guards and construction workers. Donald Trump's victory speech plays on the radio and a discussion about freedom equates it to where you get to do your spending (the gold standard? Online Shopping). For these small-time criminals, status is a shortcut to happiness, money is a shortcut to status, and crime is a shortcut to money.

A dark law-breaking comedy with a heavy focus on economic anxiety doesn't sound revolutionary or even that original; that's where context matters. Despite being the first feature-length Chinese animation to ever screen at the Berlinale, the film is facing distribution difficulties at the hands of the Chinese government. To an institution perpetually haunted by the spectre of artistic censorship and suppression, a story that portrays modern-day China as a wasteland of profit-chasing outcasts appears to be too incendiary. That's a shame, because it's a ripping fun ride and a unique entry in a national cinema that keeps uncovering more to offer.

Part of our AIFF 2017 Review Roundup.