HAVE A NICE DAY Review: Coen-esque Antics And Ugly Imagery

Why is this animated?

Why animate? The answer is obviously different for every person who chooses to tell stories through moving pictures, but often animation shows us things that we might not otherwise be able to realize in real life, from talking animals or superpowers to gorgeous images brought to life with fluidity and grace. But not all animation is beautiful or supernaturally inflected, and that is usually produced to make a point with the medium. Have a Nice Day is a Chinese film that looks cheap and is jerkily animated, but I honestly couldn’t tell you why the choice was made to animate rather than simply tell this story with actors. At least then it would be a bit more pleasant to look at.

Our story opens on Xiao Zhang stealing one million yuan from a driver at the construction site where he works, fleeing the scene with the bag of cash. The local mob boss, Uncle Liu, receives a call about his stolen money, and so sends out a hitman to retrieve the goods. Meanwhile, Zhang is harassed, abducted, and pursued by a variety of characters who all also want the bag of money, resulting in the intersection of a variety of characters motivated by greed as Zhang merely tries to get the money to his girlfriend so that she may afford some plastic surgery.

The proceedings feel like a Coen Brothers comedy a la The Big Lebowski or Burn After Reading, deriving amusement and plot momentum from watching disparate and random characters bounce off one another in the pursuit of selfish ends. Have a Nice Day isn’t as overtly comic as the Coens’ work, though admittedly that might be something lost in translation rather than willfully omitted. Overall, the piece holds together and is a decently amusing convergence of personalities that will keep you guessing for an hour and change.

But why the film is animated is beyond me, and the bland art does nothing to give the film a visually enriched identity. Frame cycles are jarring and obvious, completely lacking in fluidity as they aren’t so much animated as they are two images shifted between once every second or so. There are moments of fluidity, but the whole production feels assembled without the resources to make the animation a vital component, like watching a storyboard animatic rather than a finished film. If that is the desired effect then I can’t imagine why writer-director Jian Liu would choose it.

Have a Nice Day is a decent enough film that would be a lot easier to recommend if it had been more conventionally made. But stilted animation robs this character-driven piece of its dynamism, and consequentially its value as entertainment suffers. If animation experts prove more insightful than me on this, so be it, but I likely would have enjoyed the film more had it committed the requisite resources to professional animation or told its story with actors on screen.