Film reviews

Vancouver International Film Festival: Have a Nice Day and Angkor Awakens – A Portrait of Cambodia

Nicholas Lay reviews two more films from this year's VIFF...

Have a Nice Day

DIRECTED BY: Liu Jian
WRITTEN BY: Liu Jian

Initially refused the right to screen internationally due to pressure from Beijing earlier this summer, Liu Jian’s wickedly sharp noir animation lives up to its reputation as a bluntly satirical window into the seedy underbelly that co-exists alongside everyday life throughout any one of China’s ever-expanding urban sprawls. At one point a hitman stands over his target, cleaver in hand, only for the two of them to start discussing many of China’s traditional and modern social pressures, such as the apparent need to get married and the desire many women have to go under the knife for plastic surgery in South Korea.

Such a darkly humorous exchange is typical of Liu’s Tarantino-esque, multi-story structure, at the centre of which is a local crime lord’s missing bag of 1M RMB; stolen by a lowly driver, Xiao Zhang, and quickly pursued by numerous parties with various self-serving motives and unique, often hilarious personalities. On the flip side is Have a Nice Day’s tendency to lurch into the welcomingly outright bizarre, including a superb send up of old school Maoist propaganda in the form of a musical dream sequence that sits in stark contrast to the real life events that lead to, and follow its inception.

The jagged 2D character animation compliments the gorgeously eerie urban backdrops, and is matched throughout by the depressed deadpan voice work behind the increasingly brutal-minded characters. Snippets of opinions on wider international developments, such as the US presidential election, and talk of high-profile tech moguls, provides a casual reminder that the real China, despite its global image and local media still being controlled to the best of its ability by its own government – even in the age of the internet – has as much to say on the world stage as any other nation.


Angkor Awakens: A Portrait of Cambodia

DIRECTED BY: Robert H. Lieberman
WRITTEN BY: David Kossack

One of the rawest documentaries on show at VIFF this year, Robert H. Lieberman’s Angkor Awakens focuses on the legacy of the Khemer Rouge’s brutal regime of 1975-79, during which time it enacted a systematic genocide against millions of its own people throughout Cambodia.

Switching between historical timelines and contemporary talking heads, including survivors and their children, right up to the country’s current controversial Prime Minister, Hun Sen; Lieberman seeks to paint a picture of Cambodia at a crossroads between its horrendous recent past and uncertain, potentially unstable future. As it is not a big-budget documentary, the frank opinions of those interviewed are the sole driving force, and boy does it make for uncomfortable viewing.

Best viewed as a powerfully reflective moment in time before Cambodia either progresses politically or suffers further internal damage, rather than as a definitive history or analysis of what is to come, Angkor Awakens is a useful companion piece for those with prior knowledge of the Cambodian genocide, but probably is not the best place to start if you are looking for an accessible entry point.

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