starring Benshan Zhao, Jie Dong, Biao Fu, Xuejian Li
directed by Zhang Yimou
by Walter Chaw Titled in the same serio-ironic vein as Giuseppe Tornatore's Everybody's Fine, Zhang Yimou's Happy Times aspires for the piquant but only really achieves a sort of ridiculous sourness. It's a misunderstanding of irony taken to an Alanis Morrisetteian extreme; far from the eventuality being the opposite of the expected, the outcome of Happy Times is the worst kind of cliché, and its execution is so blunt compared to the sharp satirical barb of Yimou's own Ju Dou that I wonder if Gong Li wasn't the brains in that long lamented relationship. Still, what works in Happy Times is what has worked in this director's best work (Shanghai Triad, Raise the Red Lantern, Red Sorghum): mordant social critique so far removed from realism that its status as political allegory is as subtle as a neon sign and a crack to the noggin.