Synopsis: A man stretching the truth for his own sake soon begins doing the same for someone else, with increasingly complicated results, in this gentle comedy from China. Zhao (Zhao Benshan) is a guy in his early fifties who’s out of work but still wants to marry his girlfriend (Dong Lifan). However, his often cranky sweetheart thinks he runs a hotel, and Zhao is trying to keep the illusion alive with the help of his pal Li (Li Xuejian) by turning an abandoned bus into a “love hotel” for couples who lack privacy in their homes. But business isn’t all that good, since the old-fashioned Zhao asks unmarried couples to keep their doors open to ensure nothing untoward happens. As Zhao tries to convince his girlfriend to walk down the aisle with him — and struggles to raise the money she demands first — she introduces him to Wu Jing (Dong Jie), the blind teenage stepdaughter she inherited from her marriage to her now-deceased first husband.
The woman insists that Zhao give Wu Jing a job in his hotel; since the bus/hotel has been towed away, this isn’t a practical possibility. Zhao and Li put Wu Jing through a fake job interview to keep up appearances, and when she breaks down in tears talking about her deadbeat father, he decides he has to do something for her. Zhao moves Wu Jing into his home, and with the help of his friends, sets up a phony massage therapy center where Wu Jing works with the “clients” — actually Zhao’s friends, most of whom are also unemployed. But the bigger and more complex the illusion becomes, the harder it is to maintain, though Zhao feels compelled to do so for the sake of the girl’s feelings. -Mark Deming (AMG)
Review: Known for his intense period pieces, director Zhang Yimou takes a turn toward modern-day China in the touching comedy drama Happy Times. Shot around the port city of Dalian, Yimou uses hidden cameras to capture some of the natural bustling street life in some of the wide outdoor scenes. Moving rapidly into advanced consumer capitalism, the city is a very lively and conflicting backdrop for the old-fashioned DIY ethics of lovable protagonist Zhao (Zhao Benshan). With his graying hair and pot belly, Zhao attempts to hide his sincerity with a manic speaking style and package of lies. However, his honest sense of human decency shines through the surface-level deception. Some of the comedy might not work for Western audiences who have clearly lost something in the translation, but the inspiring final reel makes up for whatever jokes could have preceded it. A true Yimou heroine, the graceful Dong Jie makes an impressive acting debut as Wu Ying, whose fragile nature is strengthened by the film’s conclusion. Although it’s not nearly as ambitious as his other work, Happy Times is a laid-back comedy with a creative plot and plenty of character quirks. The haphazard urban imagery is valuable, but it’s the humanity at the center that’s likely to have a lasting effect. -Andrea LeVasseur (AMG)
1.37GB | 1h 43mn | 608×336 | avi
Subtitles:English (srt format)