Monday, 10 September 2007

Happy Times (2000)

It's nice to find out that Zhang Yimou, after a long and distinguished career, has FINALLY made a film about city folks in contemporary China.

It's a delightful comedy that is deeply poignant and evocative (Don't forget your dry hankie). It's a wonderful bittersweet Dickensian tale about kindness of strangers, and white lies of the most beautiful kind.

Happy Times (2000), Chinese drama filmThis movie could be viewed on 2 levels - as a simple Dickensian tale of kindness, cruelty, and hardship, or as a critical social comment on China today.

Its social resemblance to Victorian England is uncanny, but not surprising. They're in the similar stage of economic development (London fog and smog in Chinese cities is one CLEAR evidence). It's about the negative social impact of Chinese industrialisation. The old bus (called "The Happy Times Hut") that symbolises the good old times of romantic simplicity - maintained by Zhao - is being hauled away by crane - the symbol of China's ceaseless drive to modernisation - to make way for new things.

The story highlights the contrasts betwen the selfishness of the individualist culture of capitalism (Wu Ying's father and step mother), and the communal spirit of the old Communist system (Zhao and his retired fellow workers). In short, she is abandoned by the new selfish capitalist society, and supported by the old socialist system.

With all the breathless pace of change, people are nostalgic for the simple , idealistic past, and conveniently overlook the imperfections, and unhappiness of the old socialist past. This is how selective recall, and happy memories works. This longing for the simple past could be seen in the revival of all things harks back to the Mao Era.

This is China today. It's the best of times. It's the worst of times. It's Happy Times, it's unhappy times. But mostly it's Happy Times.

Fun Facts:
Zhang Yimou had adapted another Mo Yan's novel into his film. The 1st is Red Sorghum (1987). Mo Yan is a Nobel Prizewinner for Literature in 2012.  Mo Yan's stories are filled with rich symbolism. The original title of the novel is called Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh. This is obviously a comedy, but Zhang had retained the dramatic, but restrained the comedy elements. The result is a bittersweet tale.

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