Liu Jian’s second animated feature, “Have A Nice Day,” centers around Xiao Zhang (voiced by Zhu Changlong), a local gang driver who stole one million renminbi — the official Chinese currency — from his boss to repair his girlfriend’s failed plastic surgery.
The story is told sequentially, but from numerous perspectives as multiple characters stumble upon and track down the money. “Have A Nice Day” has been met with mixed reviews thus far; the film possesses a mixture of welcomed, creative instinct but also some unorthodox choices that may alienate moviegoers. The film’s narrative and atmosphere have a silent boldness which could be interpreted as devilish intelligence or alluring.
The art direction is by far the movie’s most gripping aspect. Liu’s ability to establish a scene and design a character is remarkably fresh. The depicted locations feel real in a unique way. With solid lines, artistic detail and well-balanced use of light and shadow, Liu creates a somber and lived-in snapshot of China.
The animation, however, does not maintain the appeal. Liu apparently completed most of the animation independently, resulting in the film’s three-year production time and explaining the noticeable lack of fluidity. Simple actions and motions became even more simplified, and the slow-burning, opening act did not benefit. Unrefined animation made it more difficult to become truly engaged in the film.
The film’s sound design and sparse, but intuitive, use of music, however, does contribute to its bizarre charm. None of the vocal performances were outstanding; some delivery seemed a little too restrained. Regardless, simple sound effects were effective and did not divert attention from the narrative, and whether by choice or constraint, the film did benefit from tasteful violence.
Also noteworthy is the film’s deviant dialogue; the majority of interactions and observations made by characters have the same confident mystique and strange simplicity as the visuals. Liu’s writing presented perspectives only slightly skewed, enough to elicit reaction but not to distract.
The film’s narrative of intersecting paths, fresh dialogue and independent vibe has drawn comparison to Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.” Possibly inspired by or having no relation whatsoever, both films present a stylistic normalization of crime and criminals along with a view on the concept of destiny.
Like “Pulp Fiction” and other similar works, there are countless and often unknowable effects and consequences to one’s actions, and whether fate or humans decide how these actions lead to wealth, freedom, death and everything else, is a question to always keep in mind.
Though people think themselves remarkably complex, these characters, with their simple motives and actions, deliver a simplified rendition of humanity. It becomes easier to find oneself reflected in their unawareness to the domino effects of human action.
From its colorful and random music video scene, to the live action sequence of ripples on water, “Have A Nice Day” is laden with symbolism, imagery, commentary and plenty more to ponder. Liu’s simple story and unique style are what initially drew me to the film; they are also what kept me intrigued and entertained throughout.
“Have A Nice Day” is now playing at the Angelika Film Center, a five-minute walk from Washington Square Park.
A version of this article appeared in the Feb. 5 print edition. Email Tristen Calderon at [email protected]