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Happy Times review

Compared to the recent work of Sixth Generation directors like Wang Xiaoshuai (Beijing Bicycle) and Jia Zhang-ke (Platform), Zhang Yimou's urban tragi-comedy is disappointingly insubstantial.

Television comic Zhao Benshan plays Zhao, a retired fiftysomething factory worker who's desperate to marry Dong Lifan's plump divorcee. She's not averse to the idea - - as long as he stumps up 50,000 yuan towards their wedding expenses. And provides her blind step-daughter (Dong Jie) with a job at the hotel he claims to own. Zhao's bizarre solution is to mock up a massage parlour in a disused building and put her to work, his pals helping out by pretending to be customers...

Targeted squarely at an international audience, this tale of two lonely souls gaining a measure of fulfilment from an unexpected friendship is dripping with melodramatic sentimentality. In its favour, the performances are proficient, but it's hard to pay them attention given the distractions of the tear-jerking music and fluorescent production design.

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