by Jason Suzuki
An illustration of a shop corner at night. Painted with least favorite colors. It's still-life, even the people in the frame, except for the smoke rising from one of their cigarettes. This is how Liu Jian uses motion in his film. That it's animated allows every thing to remain perfectly still unless wanted to do otherwise. It might be indicative of a small animation team, but the minimalism of movement is used to greater effect than the animated films of Yeon Sang-ho as it's even more pared down. And unlike those Korean examples of non-children oriented animation, the moments of subjectivity and focalization are rare and standout as detours in Have a Nice Day.
A collection of characters, mostly criminals but all hurting for cash, orbit a bag of money, occasionally colliding over it. Someone, the rookie character, took a big bag of money he wasn't supposed to. His girl's plastic surgery got botched and this money is a ticket to South Korea to correct it. Of course all the violence and double crossings is for a chick and of course one person after another is looking to get their hands on that bag. Whether contracted by its owner to retrieve it or the morally/financially strapped strangers that Xiao Zhang runs into on this eventful night.
The plot itself is fairly standard. Post-Coens, Post-Tarantino, whatever you want to call it. Thankfully this forces you to watch the film for other reasons. What would be additional to other films becomes the core when the proceedings seem so slight. Xiao Zhang's girlfriend and what's left of her after the work she has already had done is a fascinating bit of ancillary story. Throughout the film she is only heard, never seen. Her sister gets involved in the hunt for the money for her own reasons (a baby on the way). South Korea, and elsewhere, become safe havens to these people. Each offering knowingly temporary escapes from whatever is the current everyday.
The idea of freedom, something every character seems to be looking for, is closely linked with money. A discussion had in the midst of it all concerns this type of freedom. There are three levels of where you can spend freely: the local market, the super market, and online shopping. Your place in the world is dependent on which one of these you can do. Despite his hiring of killers to snatch back the money Xiao Zhang stole from him, Uncle Liu's concerns relate to honor. There is a sense he is the only character to have built himself up to a freedom not concerned with money but loyalty among his friends and cohorts.
Reminiscing about the film is easy in regards to these little bits here and there. The way a karaoke video becomes the visualization of entrepreneurial ambitions, or what happens when Xiao is cracked on the head with a beer bottle. A lowlife inventor adds a dose of science fiction to the confrontations he's involved in. The bag of money is a story evil to have these moments which can be seen as an achievement, that remembering who had and who ends up with the cash is so forgetful in comparison to moments of character and not suspense.