Have a Nice Day Image

Have a Nice Day

By Bill Arceneaux | April 28, 2018

From the first hours after the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election to the final weeks before inauguration, a feeling of incoming dread sank in for those keen enough to sense it. I, for one, spent time watching movies like Moonlight and other somewhat optimistic tales for somewhat progressive futures. Hope was needed. Badly. It’s hard to imagine anything set during this time as a “period piece”, but recent Chinese animated feature Have a Nice Day fits that bill. Neither in overt or subtle terms, is this film about the election. Rather, it is a glimpse into the present – the desperate times/desperate measures present, and the world leader encouraging it all. A movie set before the storm, expressing life and behavior after a disaster from a current headspace. This kind of flash-now thinking makes me smile, despite what is unleashed.

“…a glimpse into the present…”

Liu Jan’s film tells a story of heavy consequences in cartoonish appearances. Done up in a style reminiscent of the Grand Theft Auto series, Have a Nice Day follows a stolen bag of $1 Million, going from the hands of a thief to a driver to anyone daring enough to get caught up in the danger. Gangsters, inventors, spurned women and hopeful couples all race to catch up with the cash, running around a small industrial college town, pursuing the means to their dreams.

Despite its title, the movie takes place mostly at night, and in the shifty corners of a city under constant construction. At no point is the area depicted as polished or even well kept; walls have holes and are sometimes exposed brick, with faded and torn up posters taped on. One poster in particular stood out to me as a bright beacon amongst the dirt and sleaze, that being for the classic Rocky. Of course, that film too featured wide eyed dreamers living in less than ideal surroundings, but that’s where the similarities end. Have a Nice Day is not really a film of heroes accomplishing the impossible, but of impoverished folk trying to get their slice of the pie. A pie that’s been promised to them for decades.

The violence on display is occasional and impactful, much like Drive. Hammers, electrocutions, beatings and machetes come into play, in between quiet moments of contemplation and conversation. While not nearly as bloody or gruesome, these chats and diversions from action have an edge of sadness and potential explosiveness attached to them. We get the feeling that, while someone talks about their future plans, that a snap in attitude could occur, resulting in assault or death. And, indeed, this is the constant of the film. Poor individuals breaking from rationality and acting on impulse, to make their dreams a reality.

“…makes me smile, despite what is unleashed.”

While framed in such an exhausting and tragic manner, Have a Nice Day is not without some charm and comedy. There aren’t really any jokes, but victims of circumstance and serendipity flood the story with action related laugh out loud moments. Mind you, the funny is not just on someone getting hurt specifically, but in how people behave to everything. A dryness floods the empathy, showing blank and stone like faces in response to silly and intense sequences. This coldness of attitude is tickles the funny bone and engages the uneasy senses. Have we been bred to treat others this way? By who or what? I think we can point to at least one person responsible for at least stoking the flames.

Enthralling from first to final frame, Have a Nice Day stays constant in tone but ever evolving in how the content changes our perspectives. The hilarity and dreariness lead to unexpected expectations, delivering on every possible level. Everybody wants something, and at any cost. Thus far, this is my early favorite film of 2018.

Have a Nice Day (2018) Written & Directed by Liu Jian. Starring Changlong Zhu, Kai Cao, Liu Jian.

5 out of 5

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