Review: Xingfu Shiguang (Happy Times, 2000)

The happiest of times can also be the worst of times, and vice-versa!

Written By: Gai Zi
Directed By: Yimou Zhang

It took some time for Xingfu Shiguang to morph into the film that it wanted to be, but once it did Yimou Zhang’s film was a heck of a ride. Not a thrill ride mind you, but a ride of emotional honesty and the bittersweet nature of life. Mr. Zhang plays the role of the guiding hand throughout the ride. His camera is like a tour guide, leading his audience through moments of exhilarated honesty. Xingfu Shiguang isn’t the most impressive work I’ve seen from Mr. Zhang, but it is the most low-key and as a result touching of his works that I’ve seen. Mr. Zhang’s hand is never too firm and it is never too soft, his direction is just right for most of the film.

It did take some time for me to fully get into Xingfu Shiguang. The entry point into the stories and the characters could have possibly been handled better, but for the purposes of the film I understood why Mr. Zhang took the approach he did. The slow open to Xingfu Shiguang is a case of the film needing said slow open, eve if it doesn’t completely gel with the tone of the rest of the film. Yes, the rest of the film is funny just like the slow open. But, the rest of the film is emotionally open whereas the slow open is guarding its emotions. Again, I understand the reason that the slow open is so different from the rest of the film, but it didn’t work for me tonally.

The tone of the rest of Xingfu Shiguang is probably my favorite aspect of the film. Xingfu Shiguang takes on a humorous persona that hides the emotional truths the film is really aiming for. Over time the true feelings of the film come to the surface, but instead of overtaking the comedy they work hand in hand with the comedy. Xingfu Shiguang is funny and heartfelt, and it manages to present both perspectives at the same time instead of switching back and forth between the two opposites.

The performances in Xingfu Shiguang are solid across the board. Lifan Dong as the step-mother may be a tad too evil, but she manages to pull off the part with aplomb. Zhao’s friends are a great group, their friendship is genuine and that comes through in every actors performance. The two leads, Benshan Zhao as Zhao and Joe Dong as Wu Ying, are pitch perfect in their roles. They carry the emotional heft that that film requires to succeed, and they carry that heft with great admiration. Their relationship grows naturally and we get to see firsthand their special bond become the driving force of the film.

A lot of Xingfu Shiguang comes across as ridiculous, but the ridiculousness of the circumstances also came across to me as intentional. In an effort to make the emotional truths of the film more poignant the ridiculousness is heightened. In the end it works, and the film works as a whole. Xingfu Shiguang is a splendidly quiet work from Yimou Zhang. It is equally funny and moving, and it was a pleasure to watch.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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