Happy Times (China; 95 min.)

directed by: Zhang Yimou
starring: Benshan Zhao; Jie Dong; Lihua Dong; Biao Fu
Xingfu shiguang
Michael says: "The latest film by Zhang Yimou is an odd little film. It's only getting a week's run in Boston, and there were only three of us at the screening on Monday night. You would think that a film by such an acclaimed director would be getting a little more attention. Add to that that it's a comedy of sorts, albeit with the sombre themes expected of a Zhang Yimou film, and that The Boston Phoenix' Gerry Peary tore it apart, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I ended up being pleasantly surprised.

"Zhao is a lonely retiree who wants to get married. After being rejected by a series of women, he strikes up a relationship with a divorcee after leading her on with tales of his wealth (which he does not possess.) The woman turns out to be a bit of cliche of the wicked stepmother, complete with bratty son and blind stepdaughter. In an attempt to please her, Zhao agrees to get her stepdaughter, Wu Ying, a job at the imginary hotel that he claims to own. In fact, the 'Happy Times Hotel' is an abandoned bus that he and a friend have spruced up for couples to spend a little relaxation time in for a small fee. Unfortunately, before he can bring the blind girl there to perform an imaginary job, the bus is hauled away by the town.

"Zhao and his friends continue their elaborate scheme by borrowing space in an abandoned werehouse, creating a mock massage parlor, and employing Wu Ying as the hotel masseuse. Here the film changes as Zhao and Wu Ying begin to develop a friendly relationship and the two grow to care for one another, each playing a role in Zhao's elaborate lie.

"The broad comedy has its ups and downs, but the sudden shift at the end of the film brings HAPPY TIMES back to familiar Zhang Yimou turf. While some might find the conclusion melodramatic, the sadness and honesty that finally emerges after a pair of devastating events are quite moving. Jie Dong's performance as Wu Ying has particular poignancy, and while HAPPY TIMES can't compare to most of the films in Zhang's ouevre, it still makes for a moving and enjoyable film experience."