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|Index||41 reviews in total|
Zhao is a 50 year old unemployed loser making one last attempt at finding
love. He courts a portly divorcee, but keeps having to lie to pass himself
off as a better catch than he really is. Eventually, of course, the lies
backfire. Zhao tells his sweetheart that he is the manager of a fancy hotel.
She responds by foisting her blind stepdaughter off on him, confident that
he can easily find her employment at his fancy hotel.
What follows is a funny, unlikely and touching relationship between Zhao and the blind girl Wu. While Zhao is terribly misguided, constructing elaborate deceptions to keep Wu "employed" at the non-existent hotel, he does these wrong things for the right reasons. Zhao does find love, but it isn't the woman or the love he expected.
This is an excellent film and there are three big reasons why: First of all, it's directed by Zhang Yimou who may well be the best director alive. This isn't a masterpiece like "Raise the Red Lantern," but seeing the phrase "Directed by Zhang Yimou" should be enough to tell you the next two hours will be well spent.
The second and third reasons are Benshan Zhao as Zhao and Jei Dong as Wu. Zhao is a respected Chinese comedian, but the role here is really a mixture of comedy and drama. Zhao gives the mixture exactly the right touch. But the real revelation is Jei Dong. I found myself wondering through the entire movie if she were really blind. She is that good. (And I still don't know the answer.)
Don't expect a laugh out loud comedy if you see this movie. It is very funny in places, but frequently that humor is very uncomfortable. And frequently happy times aren't really what they seem.
It seems that most of the negative reviews that this film has gotten are
upon people's misconception that the film should be what THEY want it to be,
not what it really is. The truth is, although there's certainly humor in the
not a comedy - nor does it pretend to be a fairy tale, or a social expose,
political statement. To me, it's a film about cruelty and compassion - both
human beings and by fate. I found it both life-affirming, and heartbreaking
at the same time, and I thought the acting was excellent on everyone's part.
me, well worth seeing, and quite unique.
There is no doubt in my mind that Zhang Yimou is one of the world's finest
film makers. He manages to straddle the bounds of both art house and
commercialism with his catalogue of works that show a beauty and grandeur
that often earns the description "painterly", whilst also telling a really
good story. Happy Times is something of a departure from works like Raise
The Lantern and Shanghai Triad, being a fairly realist comedy.
Happy Times ("Happy Times Hotel" on the print) is about a group of 'retired' (laid off) factory workers who conspire to hoax a young blind girl. Not as callous as it sounds though, as their intentions are relatively good. The main characters are a 50 year old bachelor (Zhao Benshan) and the blind girl herself, played by newcomer Dong Jie. A small crowd of interesting friends and the gargantuan love interest/stepmother of the leads pad out the cast, which mostly plays out in a couple of small locations - two cramped flats, a sprawling abandoned warehouse, and a delapidated bus.
It's very much a character piece, focussing mainly on the relationship that develops between Zhao Benshan and Dong Jie, thrust together under circumstances that neither planned. It's a tender story... a little bit happy, a little bit sad. Bittersweet I guess, but only slightly bitter.
Zhang Yimou forgoes his usual luscious cinematography for quite a naturalistic feel. Apparently he used "hidden cameras" to shoot some of it, but I've no idea what that means (maybe the street scenes?). It's quite a simple piece, a light 95 minutes long, yet still crafted with the dexterity and care that Zhang Yimou always brings to a film. Being a character piece, it is very much dependent on the performances for success - Zhang could coax an oscar winner out of a mannequin, but Dong Jie here is especially good. If I hadn't seen her walking around the theatre unattended, I would certainly have believed she was genuinely blind (this is not an easy thing to act), and her emotional expression is spot on too. You couldn't possibly not care for her character, or that of Zhao Benshan.
The movie might be quite 'slight' in Zhang Yimou's filmography - it's unlikely to win any oscars for him, but it is a nicely made movie that I think everybody can enjoy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The simple story of Happy Times overlays an interesting commentary on
China's government, society, and future.
The first act of film creates the characters, their relationships, and the overall situation, to set up the political allegory that plays out in the final two acts. The story unfolds that retired/laid-off Old Zhao must take care of the young blind girl, Wu Ying. Through a series of lies, Zhao has put himself in a situation where, although he is retired and poor, Wu Ying believes he owns a successful hotel. He offers to give her a job in the hotel's massage room. (This is not a front for prostitution. In China, "blind man massage" is available in most cities.)
He uses the factory where he worked - which is shut down but not yet abandoned - and the help of his former workmates, to create a fake massage room and fake customers. Zhao also provides the money to pay Ying for massages, until the crew hits upon the idea of using fake money.
In the old China, the state guaranteed jobs for everyone. The patriarchal and authoritarian government wanted to show off their glorious communist system, and how well it worked (compared to the decadent capitalists, with their unemployment problems). The government could always print more money, to pay these workers.
The allegory is clear: Zhao represents the "state" - and its well-intentioned "make work" projects. The pride of Zhao (and his chances with his fiancee) is at stake, and he struggles to maintain the charade. As well, he finds that he cares for and is concerned about his charge, Ying.
In the end, two things happen independently: Zhao finds that he cannot sustain the masquerade - he is running out of money and resources (and gets into a situation where it is impossible for him to continue, and, indeed, might put Ying in desperate jeopardy); and Ying, who cottoned on to the charade long ago, decides to take responsibility for herself, and seek her own fortune.
In the same way, China's government realized it could not continue along its Maoist path, and its citizens (or at least some of them) were eager to be responsible for themselves, rather than relying on their government. A new path for China's people has opened, with greater responsibility and greater opportunity.
The film's ending brings mixed emotions: we are concerned for Ying, who must begin coping with the world with no help (at her own choice, although circumstances would force this choice, anyhow); at the same time, we are optimistic for her future possibilities; and we are sad that the relationship of Zhao and Ying has ended.
It is a tribute to director Zhang Yimou, Zhao Benshao (Zhao), and Dong Jie (Wu Ying) that the story and characters are touching, regardless of the underlying allegory. The movie plays well as the delicate and simple story of two people brought together by funny circumstances and human nature.
Yimau Zhang takes us along for a ride to explore how things seem to
have changed in China. The country has given a step forward into the
modern age as it shakes off its rigid past, adopting new ways in doing
things. In fact, the country appears to have developed its own take on
capitalism, as we watch a new prosperous, and aggressive China,
transformed in ways we had not envisioned before. Mr. Zhang's film is
an allegory about his country.
The main idea in the film is how Zhao, a factory worker, sets his eyes on a plump and attractive woman to get married. The woman, in turn, has her own ideas of what to expect from this man who lies to her and makes himself pass for a hotel manager. Thinking this is the case, the lady friend proposes he employs her stepdaughter, a blind girl that has been abandoned by her father, who has decamped to another city.
Zhao, who wants to keep the girlfriend happy, decides to take Wu Ying to work at his hotel, which in reality is a bus, that he and his buddy have converted in a lovers' motel, in a park. But before he can do anything, Zhao watches in horror as how some cleaning crews are taking his livelihood away because they are beautifying the area. Zhao is stuck with Wu Ying, so he takes her to his own humble apartment.
Zhao and his friends from the factory devise a plan to convert space in the dilapidated building a massage parlor so that the blind girl can work. The only thing, there are no clients, and only Zhao's friends are enrolled to tip the young woman using Zhao's own money.
The film is a delightful comedy about how being entrepreneurial backfires on the well intentioned man. The blind girl, Wu Ying, knows much more than what Zhao and the rest give her credit for, and unfortunately, everything ends badly, except for the blind girl, who recognizes the kindness of his mentor, who doesn't get to know first hand of her gratitude because fate intervenes.
"Happy Times" is a charming film that works thanks to the light touch by the director. Benshan Zhao, who has been seen in other Chinese films is excellent in the role of Zhao. Jie Dong plays Wu Ying with conviction and Lifan Dong, is the stepmother, who discovers the duplicity of her would be husband.
Recommended to all Yimou Zhang's fans who might have missed its commercial run.
This film will either get to you like a death in the family, or leave no lasting impression on you whatsoever. I'm among those who fit in with the first part. Maybe family death is exaggerating but that doesn't matter, this is still A VERY POWERFUL FILM. This film proves that ZHANG YIMOU IS THE BEST DIRECTOR ALIVE (as Alferd Hitchcock and Akira Kurosawa are dead). The best actor in this film is actually the blind girl (sure, she's no River Pheonix, but who is?) who always gives you the impression that she's blind (unlike some American actors in American films). Yet she happens to know more than you think in the end (no spoilers on that). To see this film on the big screen was too much, 10 out of 10. Oh, and watch out for Hero, from the same director of this.
6 Stars! This is a must see movie but be warned....the description of this film is not what this film's about. It is not a comedy, even though parts of the story are actually funny. It is a fable about compassion and the amount of deception sometimes needed to achieve it, especially by the inept. Happy Times is directed by Yimou Zhang, who gave us the masterpiece The Road Home, and it is very moving and terribly sad and oddly funny. If you like being delighted and surprised, watch this one.
This is one of the most touching films I've ever seen. I actually don't
think I can find the words in English to describe how wonderfully
director Zhang Yimou seems to understand the finer points of human
emotions. I was absolutely touched with Happy Times, and consequently
sought out his work, "The Road Home", which I found was equally
I wanted to wait to write a review of this film until I felt I could compose something fitting, but realized for me, the comments must come from the heart. In short, I'd rather skip any attempt to summarize the film or intellectually categorize it into some literal form that doesn't really fit. It is slowly immersing into unselfish love for another, while relating a sense of light comedy. My recommendation is that you try to see it on IFC or one of the other Independent film channels when it's available.
On Golden Pond is the only American film I can think of that evokes the same level of emotion provoked by Zhang Yimou.
About a retired factory worker who plans to marry an overweight,
unattractive lady, only to wind up taking care of her unwanted, blind but
beautiful daughter. Zhao Benshao's performance as the cheapskate, retired
bachelor is outstanding, while newcomer Jie Dong (WuYing) plays the blind
girl to perfection.
Another unhappy ending by Zhang Yimou, but don't let that faze you by this funny, touching and inspiring movie. Hard to find another movie like this one. 8 out of 10.
No longer partnered, artistically or domestically, with the stunning Gong
Li, director Zhang Yimou has probably redeemed himself with Party satraps
through his engaging serio-comic "Happy Days." (He's been in and out of hot
water with past films.) Destined to reach a miniscule audience in theaters,
this touching film ought to be widely viewed when released for sale or
Set in an unnamed Chinese city (definitely not Beijing), the story revolves around retired factory worker Zhau, just over fifty, and a blind teenager, Wu Ying, stepdaughter of the corpulent and avaricious woman the impecunious Zhau seeks as a wife. Wu Ying, blind since early childhood from a tumor, has to deal not only with her witch of a stepmom (dad fled from her and is supposedly in a far off city working to send money to bring his daughter to him) but with her stepbrother, a bulbous slobus amoebus training to match his mother's nastiness.
Zhau has a covey of good friends. His first get rich scheme, hatched up with his closest friend, is to "restore" a derelict bus in a park to its pristine state so it can be rented for quick, hot sheet assignations ("Happy Times Hotel"). Americans will find the Chinese take on non-marital, catch-as-catch-can sex naive but it reflects tension balanced by humor in a country where the citified young seek freedoms their elders never enjoyed.
The core of the story is Zhau's attempts to take care of Yu Wing after the evil stepmom throws her at Zhau and tells him to get her out of the house and keep her out. With his friends, all equally hovering near or under the poverty line, Zhau sets Yu Wing up as a masseuse in a fake massage parlor in a decrepit abandoned factory, the legitimate kind of parlor, not the type I heard about when an Army officer in severalAsian countries (Yu Wing was trained to give massages).
I won't reveal the lengths Zhau and his gang go to in their effort to sustain Yu Wing and make her happy. Some of their scheming is very funny. The ending reflects, hardly for the first time, Zhang Yimou's skill not only as a top director but also as a talented storyteller.
I've never seen the actor and actress who play the leads before. They simply blend their performances convincingly into a seamless story that says more about the possibilities and rewards of empathy and the joys of caring than it does about modern China. The locales here range from an affluent downtown to a condemned, empty factory. There's hardly any politics. It's sad, though, that a decent, retired factory worker can't spring for a 25 yuan Haagen Daz small cone offered in a shop that could have been imported from Main Street.
Put this one on your to-rent list!!
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