Happy Times

Happy Times

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

This is the story of Zhao (Zhao Benshan), who makes things up. He's 50-years-old, unemployed and desperate to get married. What he's looking for is a warm large lady, with a nice flat, cooking skills and a passionate nature. The one he choses couldn't be more disasterous. She's large enough, with an even larger son, but she's mercenary and tough as nails. He tells her he's the manager of a hotel and she likes that.

The closest he has come to managing anything is when he persuades one of his mates to clean up a battered old bus that's rusting in the park. He has a plans to let it out to young couples who can't find anywhere else to go, which is why he calls it The Happy Times Hut. In his vocabulary, "hut" and "hotel" are one and the same.

The fat lady has a teenage step-daughter, called Little Fu (Fu Biao), who is blind. She treats her cruelly and makes her do household chores and persuades Zhao to give her a job in his hotel. The girl has been trained as a masseur and so Zhao and his friends create a room in a disused factory, where she can "work". The friends become her clients. They hope she won't notice it's the same people over and over again. Because all of them are poor, they tip her with fake money.

Zhang Yimou's delightful film is a rarity, being a comedy of modern-day China. Benshan's performance could hardly be bettered. Rather than play Zhao as a fool, he gives him a certain dignity, self-deprecating and imaginative, always first with a money-losing scheme. Biao is the most convincing blind girl you could possibly ask for. Her role is tactile and delicate. She's remarkable.

Happy Times imbues a sentimentality that gives a soft glow to the spirit of 21st century China.

Reviewed on: 03 Oct 2002
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Happy Times packshot
Unemployed worker in Chinese province helps blind girl to impress overweight stepmother.
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Director: Zhang Yimou

Writer: Guizi

Starring: Zhao Benshan, Dong Jie, Dong Lihua, Fu Biao, Li Xuejian

Year: 2000

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: China

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