Hong Kong Digital
is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- associate
editor / film reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author
of The Hong Kong Filmography.
(2000; Guangxi Film Studio / Zhuzhai Zhenrong Co. / Beijing New Picture
Original English Export Title: Happy Time
Cover art Guangzhou Beauty Culture Communications.
Definitely Not Recommended
fuk si gwong
Middle-aged bachelor Lao Zhao (THE EMPEROR AND THE ASSASSIN's Zhao Benshan)
has been trying for two years to find a wife, with no success. After strikeout
number 18, he adopts a new strategy, wooing a portly divorcee (Dong Lifan),
who believes him to be quite well off. In reality, Zhao is unemployed
and has nowhere near the 50,000 yuan his bride wants spent on their wedding.
His buddy, Li Xiaofu (THE BLUE KITE's Li Xuejian) hits upon the idea of
transforming a broken down bus into "Happy Time Hut," a place
that would cater towards couples looking for a little private time. The
idea fails because conservative old Zhao insists that the door remain
open, for fear that young lovers might actually be having sex inside.
In addition to an equally obese son, Zhao's intended has a blind 18 year-old
stepdaughter named Wu Ying (Dong Jie). She resents having to care for
the girl (whose father left for Shenzhen without her), and asks Zhao to
give Ying a job at his "hotel." Taking advantage of Ying's disadvantage,
Zhao and Xiaofu decide to put her to work cleaning up the Hut, only to
find that the city has hauled the bus away. The stepmother refuses to
let the strong-willed girl stay with her any longer, so Xiaofu comes up
with another brainstorm. Ying has learned how to give massages, so Zhao
and his buddies set up their own fake parlor in an abandoned factory.
Problems soon mount as the men must themselves pretend to be all of the
customers and Zhao ends up having to use his own money to serve as their
"payment" to Ying. Although it is becoming more and more difficult
to maintain the ruse, Zhao does not dare stop, for fear of breaking Ying's
Zhao Benshan (left) and Dong Jie (right).
Image courtesy Guangzhou Beauty Culture Communications.
Click here for another still of Zhao and Dong
(courtesy Guangzhou Beauty Culture Communications)
A modest but still very worthwhile effort from the gifted Zhang Yimou,
HAPPY TIMES avoids the sort of mean-spirited handicapped jokes one usually
finds in Western films, instead offering gentle observational and character-based
humor. The wispy Dong Jie (who was chosen by Zhang after no less than
40,000 girls applied for the role via an internet casting call) is charming
and her scenes with Zhao Benshan are often quite touching. The way these
two characters find happiness through the time they spend with each other
never seems forced and the relationship carries none of the sexual connotations
one might expect, given the set-up. While a bit off-putting at first,
the conclusion is in-keeping with Zhang's earlier work and grows more
effective upon later reflection.
Guangzhou Beauty Culture Communications #BED-035
(Mainland China label)
Dolby Digital 5.1
Sync Sound Mandarin Language
Optional Subtitles In English or Chinese (Traditional or Simplified)
12 Chapters Illustrated In the Menu With Clips
Coded for ALL Regions
Contains some coarse language and mature themes
DVD menu courtesy Guangzhou Beauty Culture Communications.
Board Ratings and Consumer Advice
U.S.: PG (the English subs on U.S. prints evidently use tamer language
than found in the translation here)
HAPPY TIMES has been released as part of Guangzhou Beauty Culture
Communications' "Classic Fiction Films of Zhang Yimou"
series, which also includes titles like JU DOU, NOT ONE LESS, and
THE ROAD HOME. The presentation, unfortunately, is problematic.
Too much digital video noise reduction has been employed, causing
the background details in many shots to jitter quite noticeably.
The slightly overmatted image, otherwise, looks decent, though colors
and blacks are a bit light, contrasts are weak, and the English
subtitle translation is only fair. Some fast pans also cause brief
instances of smearing. As befitting the tone of the picture, the
stereo mix is mainly atmospheric in nature. Released overseas in
Dolby Digital, Dolby Surround, and DTS, the former is offered here
and sounds passable. Aside from a couple of splices, the 35mm source
material (which identifies the movie as simply HAPPY TIME, also
the name Beauty Culture has used on their packaging and menu) is
in nice condition. The one extra is an alternate 9 minute ending
(described in the menu as "End of the Old Version") which
is equally bittersweet and effective, while also less melodramatic.
Beauty Culture's disc is adequate but those wanting a copy of the
film as a permanent addition to their library would be better off
waiting for Columbia Tristar's domestic DVD, which should be appearing
at either the end of this year or the beginning of 2003. However,
since it is not clear whether the American release will include
the alternate coda, some may deem the Mainland disc to be still
worth acquiring. HAPPY TIMES will be also released to U.S. theatres,
on a limited, regional basis beginning this July by Sony Pictures