The fruits of a titanic individual effort are rarely conventional. Chinese animator Liu Jian’s independently conceived and created Have a Nice Day is a brief, stylish noir thriller that the Chinese tourism board is unlikely to love.
Our story is centred around a bag of illicit cash, the proceeds of racketeering and mob rule. At first stolen by the naive goon Xiao Zhang (Changlong Zhu) to pay for his girlfriend’s plastic surgery repair job, it switches hands frequently and bloodily as a cast of desperate souls vie for it. The pontificating criminal mastermind Uncle Liu (Yang Siming) drives attempts to reclaim his money by sending in Skinny (Ma Xiaofeng), a calm and non-plussed hitman.
If this all feels vaguely familiar, the Tarantino comparisons have already been drawn by effectively every critic watching Have a Nice Day – and the consensus isn’t wrong here. This group of lively characters, and particularly their angry dialogue and impatient repartee, is reminiscent of the American’s gleefully nasty films. Their disdain for each other is deep and amusingly played out in occasional violence and constant threat-swapping.
Liu Jian’s style of animation is visually unlike any mainstream product – at times fluid but just as often minimalist in its demonstration of movement with only a few frames. The sound work fills in the gaps for the viewer, and is terrifically realised. The distinctive Shanghai Restoration Project lend dreamlike songs to the movie, providing thoughtful backgrounds to the opening palette-setter and a contemplative interlude midway through.
Those opening shots, as the credits play, are a tremendous sequence of realistic and unglamourised glimpse into the reality of under-privileged metropolitan outskirts in China as they really are. With the eye of a connoisseur, Liu Jian shows us filthy streets, massive highways, flickering neon signs and side alleys. This is an area in need of a deep clean, and possible a fresh start.
No wonder, then, that the film’s offbeat characters are so desperate to grab the money while they can, and before the literal deluge rolls in. At 75 minutes, Have a Nice Day doesn’t give them the time to delay, and just as its series of twists approaches predictability, it ends with a crash. This distinctive film’s gritty tone and unique flavour are lovely tonics to the humdrum of Hollywood.