Zhao Benshan, Dong Jie, Dong Lihua, Fu Biao, Li Xuejian
In Chinese; widescreen; English subtitles.
|Director Zhang Yimou's filmography is replete with dramas that are powerful and insightful, whether they're historical or modern. But Zhang ("The Road Home," "Raise the Red Lantern," "Ju Dou") goes a little soft with "Happy Times." It begins as a quirky character comedy about poor, aging bachelor Zhao (Zhao Benshan), a man so desperate to be married that he pursues a homely, abusive divorcee. He needs cash to woo the harpy, who spoils her sloth-like son and mistreats her lovely, blind stepdaughter Wu. So Zhao and a friend convert an abandoned bus into a love nest and rent it, by the hour, to couples seeking privacy. Zhao's intended spouse is unimpressed. She demands that Zhao give Wu (Dong Jie, astoundingly good in her first film) a job at his "hotel," but the bus is towed away. Wu dreams of earning enough money to find her absent father and get a vision-restoring operation; Zhao is determined to give her hope; and "Happy Times" turns into a sweet, sorrowful tale that echoes Chaplin's "City Lights."|