Monday, July 17, 2017

Fantasia ’17: Have a Nice Day

This is the film China did not want France to see. Ironically, at this year’s Annency, the world’s most prestigious animation festival, China had been selected as featured guest country, but the Communist censors sabotaged their own PR coup by refusing animator Liu Jian the proper permits to screen his latest feature in competition. Thanks for reminding the world of the grim realities facing Chinese artists under Xi-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. There are no politics per se, but its dog-eat-dog depiction of contemporary China apparently hit too close to the truth. Hopefully, the Chinese authorities will still allow French Canadians to see Liu’s Have a Nice Day (trailer here), by not taking any last-minute measures to block its screenings at the 2017 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Ironically, Mao’s mug has been emblazoned on all denominations of paper renminbi banknotes. There are a lot of those Mao’s in the satchel low-level flunky Xiao Zhang steals from his boss. Of course, he is really stealing from the big boss, Uncle Liu, which is a really bad idea. It is a busy night for Uncle Liu, who is already beating the stuffing out of a local artist, so he assigns Skinny (a part-time fixer and full-time butcher) to handle the problem.

Unfortunately, Xiao Zhang has already been handled by an opportunistic couple with a pair of X-ray glasses. Soon, various other dodgy parties are also scrambling after the money, like characters in a seventy-five minute It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World, but set in provincial China—and with a lot of bloodshed.

Frankly, a film like Nice Day is healthy for Chinese society, because it spurs discussion and analysis regarding the state of things. One of the most telling aspects of the film is the frequency characters express a need or desire to leave for another country, often for better educational opportunities or in the case of Xiao Zhang’s girlfriend, corrective plastic surgery to fix the botched work she received locally. So much for the “Chinese Dream.”

Nice Day also happens to be a jolly good caper film, albeit in a decidedly lean and mean kind of way. Viewers should not get too attached to any characters, but on the other hand, they should count any out, no matter how bad their situation looks. This is definitely a predatory environment. It is Xi’s China, so you’re on your own.

The animation is also surprisingly stylish. Generally, the figures are on par with those of Yeon Sang-ho’s Korean features, but Liu seasons Nice Day with noir trappings and little mundane details that really ground it in the real world. It is an excellent film, so hopefully the Communist censors are through throwing tantrums. Very highly recommended, Have a Nice Day screens tonight (7/17) and Wednesday (7/19) as part of this year’s Fantasia.