Happy Times

Chinese director Zhang Yimou's 11th feature is also his second urban comedy (1997's dark satire KEEP COOL was his first), an extremely funny, ultimately heartbreaking look at life in contemporary China. Desperate to marry somebody — anybody — before he gets too old, middle-aged Zhao (Zhao Benshan) proposes to a rotund divorcée (Dong Lihua) who,...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Chinese director Zhang Yimou's 11th feature is also his second urban comedy (1997's dark satire KEEP COOL was his first), an extremely funny, ultimately heartbreaking look at life in contemporary China. Desperate to marry somebody — anybody — before he gets too old, middle-aged Zhao (Zhao Benshan) proposes to a rotund divorcée (Dong Lihua) who, without much hesitation, accepts. She's looking for a man of means — she's been left to raise her own horribly spoiled son (Ling Qibin), and Wu Ying (Dong Jie), her second husband's blind teenage daughter — and Zhao leads her to believe that he's one of modern China's nouveau riche. But the truth of the matter is that Zhao is simply a poor factory worker whose chief financial resource is his best friend, Fu (Fu Biao). Fu won't fork over the dough for the wedding, but he concocts a scheme that could net them both a small fortune. He suggests fixing up an old abandoned bus that's been sitting out in the woods behind the factory; they could charge couples a fee to use it as a trysting place. Zhao agrees, and when he brags to his fiancée that he's the proprietor of something called the "Happy Times Hotel," she comes up with a plan of her own. Eager to get Wu Ying out of her life, she bullies Zhao into taking on Wu Ying as a hotel employee; Wu Ying's a trained masseuse, she argues, and can earn her keep giving backrubs. Afraid of losing his future wife, Zhao, with the help a small crew of faithful coworkers, concocts an elaborate deception designed to keep both his "chunky mama" and the poor, put-upon Wu Ying — who's smarter than everyone suspects — fooled into thinking Zhao is something he's not. Based on a novella by Mo Yan, who also wrote the novel on which Zhang's debut feature, RED SORGHUM, was based, this is a beautifully executed film. The subtlety with which Zhao's selfish desire to snare a wife becomes selfless devotion to a virtually abandoned young girl is masterful. The film also provides an interesting look at just how far urban China has come in recent years, but Zhang can't quite hide his ambivalence. For all its glitz and hustle and bustle, the city is an alienating place where simple people like Zhao and Wu Ying can easily become lost. (In Mandarin, with English subtitles.)

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  • Released: 2000
  • Rating: PG
  • Review: Chinese director Zhang Yimou's 11th feature is also his second urban comedy (1997's dark satire KEEP COOL was his first), an extremely funny, ultimately heartbreaking look at life in contemporary China. Desperate to marry somebody — anybody — bef… (more)

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