The Transitory Nature of Happiness

Brad Vance

Escapism is one theme that is explored in the film Happy Times. To deliver his message the director relies heavily on symbolism. The central setting of the film is the workshop, which is converted into "the happy times hotel". The hotel also serves as the symbolic nexus of the film. With the hotel the director has created a symbolic universe through which he creates an allegory that deals with several aspects of the human experience.
The Happy Times Hotel is the physical manifestation of the fantasy world that Mr. Zhao has created through his lies and exaggerations. In real life the characters in this film are all lacking something. Little Wu (the blind girl) needs someone to love her. Mr. Zhao needs a respectable job and a solid income so he can be married. Zhao's friends need the dignity that is denied the poor in capitalist China. The Happy Times Hotel represents an alternate reality in which all the characters have their needs met. Wu finds many caring friends and a loving father figure (Mr. Zhao). Zhao is the manager of a major hotel with a big salary. Zhao's retired friends gain dignity; they are prominent professionals who can afford to go to a swanky massage parlor whenever they want.
Everyone is happy within the confines of the Happy Times Hotel. However the hotel and the trappings that go along with it are not real. The money that the retirees use to tip Wu is just plain paper. The "hotel" itself is just a dingy disused warehouse. The whole situation is an illusion. The conclusion of the film drives home the point that while escapism can bring temporary happiness, and while these feelings are real and valuable, they are also necessarily transitory. One can escape for a while. However the hard realities of life do not disappear and will reassert themselves. The truck that hits Mr. Zhao symbolizes the harshness of this message. Zhao is walking along with his hands in his pockets paying no attention to the world around him the truck represents reality reasserting its dominance in his life. The film asserts that happiness is transitory by nature. However it also reminds us that since life's happy moments will pass they must be savored.

The Self-Masturbation of China

Hernan Amaya

This film is about socialism and how that fantasy doesn't work. In this film we have the Chinese people being represented by Wu Ying and the Fat Woman. Communism is represented by Old Zhao. Capitalism and modernity are represented by Xiao Fu.
Old Zhao has a heart of gold, good intensions and just wants a simple life. He just wants to get married and maybe have some kids. Through out the movie we see Old Zhao try to make Wu Ying and Fat Woman happy. He does this by making up white lies saying that he is the co-owner of a hotel. Just like what Old Zhao does for Wu Ying communism created this fantasy for the people of China. Old Zhao lets her believe that she is working in a real message parlor and pays her with fake money just to keep up the fantasy. Although Wu Ying suspects Old Zhao from the start she just plays along to make herself happy and Old Zhao happy. Old Zhao and Wu Ying both know that their actions will not get them far in life but they are reluctant to leave this fantasy world into the end. At the end of the movie Wu Ying leaves because she knows that Old Zhao although with good intentions is doing more harm than good. If they continue living in this fantasy their situation will only get worse. Nothing will ever get resolved because non [none] of them has a real job and are unable to make money.
At the end of the movie Old Zhao gets run over by a truck a representation of capitalism or modernization killing communism. In the movie we see communism as useless only offering the people of China a fantasy. In the movie we see Old Zhao never knowing how to get money how to take care of problems and always having to go to Xiao Fu for solutions. Xiao Fu seems to have all the answers on how to get money and survive. So although we are sad to see the good things that came with communism die we look to what capitalism provides and see a brighter future.
Zhang Yimou does a great job of showing how communism is a pretty fantasy for people but in the end is unable to provide adequately for the people. He presents capitalism as a good system that has the ideas to provide jobs and money.

China's Capitalist Cinderella

Kara Gongaware

The movie Happy Times by Zhong Yimou has a typical fairy tale aspect. It focuses on a blind girl living with her stepmother and stepbrother, who happen to be cruel to her. They force her to do all the household chores, despite her blindness. This is the Cinderella motif that the movie seems to play out. The blind girl, Wu Ying, wants to escape the rough life with her stepmother and does that by going with Zhao to work, even though his jobs are fake. Zhao is dating Fat Woman, the stepmother, who lies to appear to have a job and money. Zhao is playing the "prince" by taking Wu Ying away from her stepmother, to work when he does not actually have a job for her. He is helping her in his own way with what little money he has. Wu Ying finds hope in the world through him because he shows her compassion and kindness. She is Cinderella: a tough girl trying to survive a bad situation and feeling like the world is evil.
At first Zhao does not notice Wu because he has eyes only for her stepmother, Fat Woman. He makes up a hotel job by fixing up an old bus to impress Fat Woman; when he calls it a "hotel," she does not know what it really is. She requests that he take on Wu in his hotel and he does but, through unfortunate events, he has to make the excuse that the hotel is under renovation earlier than he expected and would have to find Wu another job. The other job is a made-up massage parlor in an old factory. Wu, who works there as a masseuse, eventually realizes that everything is false but that Zhao, who has come to care for her in a fatherly way, is wonderful to her. She does not want to disappoint him by telling him that, despite all his efforts, she knows the truth. All Wu Ying wants throughout the movie is to earn enough money to find her father, who left her to have his own life and earn the money for her eye surgery. That is the capitalist part of the fairy tale. The job that Zhao has her conned into gives her real life experiences that she says, in the concluding scene, she will never forget. She proves many times that, despite her being blind, she is tough enough to survive and has an "insight" or an understanding about everything that goes on around her. Cinderella (Wu Ying) finally leaves the confines of Zhao's imaginary world to attempt to make it on her own in the real world.
This is a romantic film much like Cinderella is a story of a girl trying to escape her stepmother and find a life of her own. Despite the layers of lying and deceitfulness, there is love and compassion underneath. Everything Zhao did was with good intentions to help Wu Ying. This is a fairy tale for capitalist China. I personally thought this was a film worth seeing because the acting is decent as well as the story plot. The intricate weave of the characters and their relationships as well as the underlying ideals make this an entertaining movie.

Blind Irony

Avery Harris

It is possible that director Zhang Yimou is trying to make a comment on the current socioeconomics in China with his film "Happy Times." Set on the streets of a big northern city, the film is devoted to the lives of ordinary people living in modern China. Veiled in a complicated web of social deception the story begins with laid-off, fast-talking Zhao who wants to marry fat, money-grabbing Dong. She thinks he owns a fancy hotel; the comic deception evolves into something much more poignant; the relationship between blind, young orphan Wu and Zhao. The movie is a commentary on the evils of capitalism, however, I believe that there is something much more important here, the value of relationships. The story revolves around one metaphor, that life is full of many rejected things that are not always broken, such as, the bus, the factory, and Wu.
"Happy Times" portrays the rise of commercialism and how the old Chinese way of life is losing itself to commercialism. The viewers are thrown into city life at the beginning of the film, with realistic cinematography that makes us feel as if we are actually in Beijing, on the streets. The director clearly wants us to join into the characters lives, to join in with their dialogue experiencing their daily angst firsthand, but I think the theme of interpersonal relationships is more important in this film, than that of socioeconomics.
"Happy Times" displays the evolving relationship between two opposites, Wu and Zhao, who originally have no feelings toward each other. Thrown together by chance, and are stuck with each other, eventually becoming very important to each other. Zhao was a poor man, yet he pawned his television to buy Wu a new dress, Zhao treated Wu as a real person, despite her disability and taught her how to believe in herself, something nobody else ever cared to do.
In the midst of greedy displays of human nature, and a rapidly changing China, beauty and love are discovered in the most secret of places. A comedy about relationships may not qualify to film critics as a serious addition to the cultural film cadre currently coming out of China; however, I really enjoyed this film because of the accurate portrayal of human life and relationships.
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