Questions of cross-cultural influence are always difficult to pin down with any definitive authority. At first glance, the animated Chinese gangster story Have a Nice Day looks like an awful lot like the post-Tarantino American crime pictures of the 1990s, where criminals spend way more time hanging out & chewing the fat than they do committing crimes. However, as Tarantino himself was heavily influenced by Hong Kong action cinema of the 1980s (the A Better Tomorrow franchise’s influence on Reservoir Dogs is especially apparent), it’s difficult to determine whether Have a Nice Day is a reflection of his work, a continuation of a larger Chinese crime cinema tradition, or a combination of both. There’s a second 90s-era American auteur who potentially had just us much of an influence on Have a Nice Day’s tone, though, a much more unlikely source of inspiration: Richard Linklater. The film’s flat animation style and long stretches of meandering, sometimes philosophical dialogue recalls a distinctly Linklater headspace that’s not exactly common to crime thrillers about villainous gangsters. It’s an unlikely source of inspiration that solidifies the film’s 1990s indie cinema atmosphere, even though its visual design resembles a graphic novel from the 2010s.
An in-over-his-head professional driver steals a bag stuffed with one million yuan from his crime-boss. Over the course of a single night, several disparate parties, from top level gangsters to money-hungry restraunteurs, jockey for possession of the bag, leaving a trail of broken bodies in their fight over its ownership. Have a Nice Day is less distinct for its narrative, which is a typical post-Tarantino crime story, than it is for its atmosphere. It feels as if its conflict is contained in a universe where it’s perpetually 3am and everyone’s as delirious as they are desperate for easy money. The landscape is established as a quiet, desolate picture of urban squalor, backed by hip-hop instrumentals & (more often than not) total silence. Meat cleavers, switchblades, cellphones, plastic surgery disasters, rundown internet cafes, a sparsely populated pavement slick with light rain: this is a small, inconsequential world defined by financial desperation & early morning depravity. The money in that bag means a lot to many people, maybe even least of all to the gangsters it was stolen from. The stolen money seems to be the only road out of this forever-rut of 3am crime sprees, a chance for freedom worth drying for, if not for escaping boredom alone.
The actual animation of Have a Nice Day isn’t as much of a draw as its static visual design. The crisp lines & flat fields of color feel representational of modern graphic art sensibilities, but the computer-smoothed movements of its action isn’t exactly impressive. Often, entire scenes will play out with a single character unloading long paragraphs of dialogue, portraying no movement outside the Flash animation flapping of tense mouths. The only break from this late-night drudgery is a tangential musical spoof of Chinese propaganda films, a brief daydream in an environment that requires that kind of mental escapism for survival. Otherwise, this is Tarantino (or Woo, depending on how you want to track that influence) without the explosive violence. This is Linklater without the broad relatability. The blankness of the animation style matches the financial & ambitious rot of desperate characters in an empty world where the only excitement offered is a stolen sack of cash. The film is calm, hollow, and slow-moving in its escalation of violence & danger, a distinctly 90s hangout vibe in an animated context where that type of atmosphere is a rarity.