Zhao is an aging bachelor who hasn't been lucky in love. Thinking he has finally met the woman of his dreams, Zhao leads her to believe he is wealthy and agrees to a wedding far beyond his ...
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When a leprous winery owner in 1930s China dies a few days after his arranged marriage, his young widow is forced to run the winery to make a living while contending with bandits, her drunkard lover, and the invading Japanese army.
Zhao is an aging bachelor who hasn't been lucky in love. Thinking he has finally met the woman of his dreams, Zhao leads her to believe he is wealthy and agrees to a wedding far beyond his means. Zhao's best friend Li hatches the idea to raise the money by refurbishing an abandoned bus, which they will rent out by the hour--the Happy Times Hotel--to young couples starved for privacy. Unfortunately, this plan goes awry because Zhao is too old fashioned to allow the couples to leave the bus door closed. Meanwhile, Zhao's fiancee introduces him to her spoiled son and beautiful blind stepdaughter Wu Ying, whom she sees as a burden. To be rid of the girl, she insists that Zhao take her to the Happy Times Hotel and give her a job. Zhao reluctantly agrees, then creates a series of deceptions to keep the girl occupied, including setting her up as a masseuse and enlisting his friends to pretend to be her customers. Everything that is happening between Zhao and Wu is superficially about ...Written by
Sujit R. Varma
Director Zhang Yimou issued a casting call via the Internet for role of the blind girl. Eventual lead Dong Jie was selected from some 40,000 girls who auditioned for the role. See more »
SPOILER: In the original China-released ending, Zhao is not involved in a car accident. He writes a letter as the girl's dad and reads it to her as the lights dim and the credits roll. This ending is available in certain DVD releases. See more »
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.
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