Hong Kong Digital is sponsored by ...
Please see the Hong Kong Digital home page for a special offer from Poker Industries to Hong Kong Digital readers.

April 22nd, 2002 Issue #105a

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.

Happy Times
(2000; Guangxi Film Studio / Zhuzhai Zhenrong Co. / Beijing New Picture Distribution Co.)
Original English Export Title: Happy Time

Cover art Guangzhou Beauty Culture Communications.

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Cantonese: Hung fuk si gwong
Mandarin: Xingfu shiguang
English: Blissful Times


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 heart.

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.

DVD Specs:

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
Letterboxed (1.95:1)
Coded for ALL Regions
97 Minutes
Contains some coarse language and mature themes

DVD menu courtesy Guangzhou Beauty Culture Communications.

Film 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 Classics.

Click here for more information about The Hong Kong Filmography

Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2002. All Rights Reserved.
E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com

Hong Kong Digital is presented in association with Hong Kong Entertainment News In Review