Jian Liu’s Have a Nice Day has the rough contours of an early Quentin Tarantino film with the particulars of a more arty, meditative mood piece. It’s a twisty-turny crime drama complete with stolen money, vengeful mob bosses, and all sorts of strange coincidences and random dialogue digressions. But what it really seems to be about are the empty streets of a depressed Chinese town, the blinking neon of rough neighborhoods, the ubiquity of screens, and the constant drone of mobile devices (everybody in the movie has a distinct ringtone, and there are a lot of ringtones). Oh, and it’s animated.
The story follows the intricate events that ensue after a young driver named Zhang Xiao steals a bag of 1 million yuan belonging to mob boss Uncle Liu (whom we first meet gleefully torturing one of his childhood friends). Soon enough, there’s a hit man after the money, not to mention an assorted cast of on-the-make individuals, each with their own intentions and desires.
Zhang plans to use the money to take his girlfriend to South Korea so that a failed plastic surgery operation can be corrected. Most crime thrillers are about freedom, escape, morality — there’s always someone looking to break free of the system. But here, everybody is already been corrupted by society, by its financial and cultural demands. Those cell phones constantly lighting up in the characters’ pockets are the central accessory of modern capitalism. Everybody is always reachable, connected, compromised.
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The fact that we’re watching a cartoon adds a welcome layer to the experience. As a live-action film, Have a Nice Day would probably feel both predictable and contrived. The setup is beyond clichéd, and the plot’s many unlikely coincidences and intersections are more convenient than convincing. Even the efforts to work broader themes don’t feel particularly new: Go to enough festivals and you’ll find an overabundance of movies about the existential despair of the modern urban dweller. But the surprisingly vibrant, hand-drawn images of Have a Nice Day revitalize the story’s more tired elements. It might not give us anything new, but Jian Liu’s film looks lovely and, at 77 minutes, doesn’t overstay its welcome. And sometimes that’s enough.