watch the trailer for a banned film
MUBI have a UK release date for the film that follows a truck driver who steals one million Yuan to pay for his wife’s plastic surgery.
Last year, the Chinese animation Have a Nice Day was set to star at French animated film festival Annecy. Every year Annecy chooses a different country to showcase, and 2017 was China’s turn: “Our project is to offer the biggest overview of the past as well as the present of Chinese animation,” the festival said at the time. “We would like to talk about the industry and its rapid development, and also make more singular voices heard.” Singular voices like Have a Nice Day’s director Jian Liu, who spent three whole years drawing and animating the feature.
But while dozens of the other films got their moment of cartoon glory, Have a Nice Day was pulled from the festival the day before it started. According to the BBC, it didn’t have correct clearances from Chinese officials to be shown internationally, and the festival’s organisers stated that they "did not have the right to endanger the film's team”. While that may sound like a mild overreaction, bare in mind that the country is notorious for censoring creativity: artist Ai Weiwei has been been placed under house arrest, and in actual prison, for charges related to him challenging the country’s Communist Party, and they’ve banned Facebook, Google, Youtube, hip-hop culture from TV and Justin Bieber for “bad behaviour”.
So it’s not really surprising they had a go at Have a Nice Day. Set in a little town in southern China, the film follows a truck driver who steals 1 million Yuan to pay for his wife’s plastic surgery. But news spreads quickly, and soon everyone’s after Xiao Zhang and his bag of cash. What follows is all bloody, gory black comedy that pokes subtle critiques at an often problematic modern-day China. The below scene, for instance, shows a hitman slitting Xiao Zhang’s face with a massive knife. Zhang then talks about how he wants to get his girlfriend plastic surgery, that his mum’s pressuring him to have a kid and that he really admires the baddies in movies. “I’ve watched The Godfather dozens of times. They’re all real men. I admire men like you!”
We don’t know what exactly pushed the officials’ tightly done-up buttons. Was it the abundance of bloodbaths? The glorification of violence? The commentary on our ever-increasing obsession with plastic surgery? The depiction of forever present family pressures? The 80s soundtrack? More importantly -- does it even matter?
After the film was banned, it became the first Chinese film to compete at the Berlin film festival. It’s been picked up by Hong Kong’s Ekdo films for representation in Asia, and France’s Memento films for representation in the rest of the world. Good as they probably were, none of the other films shown at Annecy received the same exposure. This is the one everyone’s talking about, the one we’re writing about, the one coming to UK cinemas on 23 March. Maybe the Chinese officials should’ve Googled the Streisand effect before pulling the film from the festival? Oh wait, they can’t.