Happy Times
aka Xingfu shiguang

Happy Times

Mandarin language. China, 2000. Not Rated. 96 minutes.

Cast: Zhao Benshan, Dong Jie, Li Xuejian, Dong Lifan, Leng Qibin
Writers: Gui Zi (screenplay), Mo Yan (story)
Music: Zhai Ru
Cinematographer: Hou Yong
Producers: Qinglong Yang, Zhang Weiping, Zhao Yu
Director: Zhang Yimou


Grade: C Capsule review by Jeff Vorndam

A  film about ordinary people taking extraordinary measures to find happiness in a cruel (and capitalist) world, Happy Times is disappointing. Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern, Not One Less) is one of China's premier directors, but his last two movies (including the syrupy The Road Home) show signs of slipping. Here he directs a light comedy with a fairytale feel to it, and the result is only sporadically funny.

Zhao Benshan is Zhao, an unemployed middle-age man who is so desperate to marry (for reasons never explained) that he get engaged to a nasty, cold-hearted woman who uses him to unload her blind step-daughter. As if her character weren't painted broadly enough, she and her son are both obese, and the blind step-daughter is rail thin. (Skinny=virtuous, fat=venomous.) Zhao inexplicably wants to please his fiancee, so he concocts an elaborate ruse to provide the illusion that the blind girl is working as a masseuse at a hotel he owns. He doesn't, in fact, own a hotel, but he and his employees construct a room in an abandoned warehouse that "feels" like a massage parlor so the blind girl won't notice the difference. Much of the movie's running time is taken up by the oh-so-funny attempts to trick the girl into thinking she's actually working in a real massage parlor and getting paid by real customers. WARNING! SPOILER: The last act is heavily sentimental, with a deus-ex-hit-by-a-truck scene that recalls, alas, City of Angels. It gives the film an artificial and unearned aura of tragedy, a sob story sop to those left unsatisfied by the film's lack of substance.

Happy Times played at the 45th San Francisco International Film Festival on April 27 and April 28, 2002.

Review © April 2002 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Image 2002 Sony Pictures Classics. All Rights Reserved.

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