Have a Nice Day

Jian Liu (Director, Writer, and Key Animator)
Zhu Changlong, Cao Kou, Xiaofeng Ma, Yang Siming (Cast)
Released February 17, 2017 (Berlin), January 26, 2018 (United States)M/h5>

Money makes the world go around, or so they say. It certainly serves as the driving force for many a crime film. This holds true in Jian Liu’s Have a Nice Day, in which a driver steals money from a gang and sets into motion a series of events that reveals the unexpected connections in one Chinese town.

The crisscrossing paths of Have a Nice Day’s characters are familiar ground in the crime and noir genres. When Xiao Zhang makes the choice in the opening minutes of the film to run off with the money, certain expectations are set. Zhang works as a driver for a gang, so we know his boss will not be happy. Since a gang is involved, we can expect some interesting characters: a thug, a killer, maybe a hacker.

have a nice day poster

But if we kept the story confined to only the criminal side of things, it’d be a much shorter and less complicated movie. A man on the run is bound to attract attention when he’s carrying so much money on him. What about the disfigured girlfriend who Zhang stole the money for? What happens when her relatives find out about this money? Will they be happy their relative can now afford the corrective surgery to repair her face or will their own greed overcome their goodwill? What of the people who encounter Zhang? Will they leave him be or will they throw themselves in the fray?

Have a Nice Day delves into these moments, revealing human frailties and the ways our baser natures get the better of us. Is it a good idea to steal money intended for your cousin, that in turn was stolen from a gang? Especially when you know people—strong, skilled people—will want that money back? Probably not, but that literal bag of money represents potential: the potential of a happy girlfriend, the potential of a marriage to please a demanding mother, the potential of your own piece of land away from a crowded, urban cityscape. Potential, it turns out, is a powerful motivator.

These elements may seem familiar, but what sets the film apart is the way it evokes the urban setting. It can be difficult to capture the contrasting elements of a modern Asian city, especially via animation that doesn’t appear to use CGI, but Have a Nice Day manages to do so. The industrial shops, the internet cafes, the small roadside restaurants—I’ve never been to China, but these backdrops made me nostalgic for the inner barangays of Metro Manila.

Because of the large cast in such a compact film, we don’t get a chance to delve into the characters’ mindsets. On this front, the film relies on the viewers’ knowledge of these character archetypes. Zhang’s boss is the quintessential “Uncle” who “just” wants his money back, and simply wants to be respected because it is his due. The gang’s most efficient killer works as a mere butcher by day. The girlfriend’s cousin and her boyfriend are the average couple who anticipate a future filled with the struggle to make ends meet.

Have a Nice Day doesn’t probe too deeply into why these people are in their present situations. Why did Zhang take on the occupation of being the driver for a gang? He says he wants to get married to make his mother happy. Surely his mother isn’t happy that her son works for a gang in the first place. Is his desire a way to placate her because of that?

Perhaps the way the film’s characters jump at the chance to get their hands on the stolen money provides the answer. Maybe it does boil down to money. Money does make the world go around, as they say. It may not be the answer everyone wants to hear, but it is an honest one—and one that most people can understand.