Watching Liu Jian’s Have a Nice Day a few days after the Oscar nominations were announced, I can’t help but think of it in the context of the animated competitors from this past year. It isn’t unique for adult-themed films to be highlighted by the Academy but it is certainly on the rare side. This year, Loving Vincent took that slot.
Have a Nice Day is an entirely different animated film. These adult-themed animated films that are put on a pedestal typically come from a purely artistic angle -- they may blend narrative and documentary forms, focus the efforts on the artistic style over a kid-friendly story [or any story at all], or contemplate heavy philosophical questions. I don’t mean to say Have a Nice Day isn’t artistically inclined, it’s just cruder. It is darkly funny and very violent.
I doubt Have a Nice Day will have any shot at an Oscar a year from now -- I don’t even know if it will be eligible with festival releases throughout 2017. I hope, though, that it will sought out. If people see Have a Nice Day, it will likely be remembered.
It is definitely an unusual film, one that works better than the sum of its parts. It doesn't break any ground in terms of its style or plot, but the blending of the two makes for something unique.
What it's about: A dopey dude steals a million yuan [roughly 158 thousand American dollars] from a mob leader with the plan to take his girlfriend to South Korea for plastic surgery. The theft puts a number of colorful and dangerous characters on his trail, including a crazy cousin and a hitman called “Master Skinny.” This rat race makes for violent confrontations as the money passes through their hands.
Have a Nice Day is definitely a Miramax 90s indie era title to match its Miramax 90s indie plot.
Not a lot of films come to the U.S. from mainland China and the ones that do are usually martial arts or some other kind of epic. Seeing a small-set animated film is really pretty cool. Tonally, it is most like the dark social dramas of Jia Zhangke, though with more overt violence.
The animation style reminds me of the Liquid Television Asian influenced style of the early 90s, though perhaps a little less intense. It is has a simple, hand-drawn aesthetic that isn’t flashy, but effectively detailed. There is never a lot of movement on screen, which keeps the look clean.
One question I always ask myself when seeing an animated film, especially an animated film targeted at adults, is if the animation is necessary. Certainly Have a Nice Day could be made easily as a live-action film. Aside from a few weird tech touches, the film deliberately stays away from the fantastical. Its form does something to streamline. It somehow simplifies the style and story. If it were to be remade, the compulsion to make it a crazy violent gangster film would take it over-the-top. The choice to animate is an unconventional one.
There are a number of background markers of modern culture that I found interesting. The most noticeable examples were a Chinese version of a Fast and Furious poster [I think it was for the 4th installment] and a snippet of Trump’s presidential acceptance speech where he thanked Clinton for a hard fought campaign. These touches may not mean much explicitly to the plot, but it adds a strange contemporaneousness that you don’t normally get with an animated film. Given that these are both uniquely American touchstones, too, adds something.