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Full Review

Jie Dong in
"Happy Times"

Happy Times
by Marcy Dermansky

Guide Rating -  


Zhang Yimou sent out an open casting call through the Internet to find the lead actress for "Happy Times." A staggering number responded: seventy thousand young women all wanting to be made famous by China's most esteemed director. Yimou, after all, discovered Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi. I'd say he's done it again. Jie Dong, who makes her film debut as the blind and unwanted Little Wu, is thin, tough and heartbreakingly lovely.

If a heartbreakingly lovely young actress is reason enough to compel you into the movie theater, see "Happy Times."

Otherwise, this small-town Chinese comedy about a an aging man who goes to incredible lengths to impress the woman of his dreams is strictly formula. Zhao (Zhao Bensham) becomes engaged to an overweight woman with two children who is looking to get married for strictly financial reasons. Zhao lies about his wealth to seal the engagement, but when his fiancée insists that Zhao find employment for her blind stepdaughter (Jie Dong), the desperate Zhao comes up with a plan. Little Wu will clean the "Happy Times Hotel," an abandoned bus rented out by the hour to couples looking for privacy. When the hotel is airlifted by a crane, Zhao actually creates a fake massage room in an abandoned warehouse so the girl can continue working.

Before long, Zhao finds himself disenchanted with his greedy fiancée and goes to great lengths to help Little Wu. He is moved by her plight, and how could he be otherwise? She is blind, after all, vulnerable, hurt, painfully thin, but still defiant. Zhang Yimou shamefully manipulates his audience: Zhao buys the girl a popsicle when he cannot afford the price of ice cream at Haagen Dasz. He sells his beat-up television to buy her a flowered red dress to replace her rag-like clothes. Only a cold fish would not be touched by such simple tenderness.

The tragic ending of "Happy Times" comes as no surprise.



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