Happy Times (Xingfu Shiguang) (2001)

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Released 19-May-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama None
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 92:55
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Yimou Zhang
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Benshan Zhao
Jie Dong
Lifan Dong
Biao Fu
Xuejian Li
Qibin Leng
Ben Niu
Jinghua Gong
Hongjie Zhang
Bingkun Zhao
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music Bao San


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Chinese Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    Zhao (Zhao Benshan) is a 50 year old single man who is continually looking for a wife. He thinks he has found her in Chunky Mama, a quite large woman who lives in a small apartment with her equally large son and Wing Yu, a thin blind girl. This is Zhao's 18th attempt to find a bride, and his large fiancée says that they need 50,000 Yuan to get married. Zhao looks around for a way to make money - he works in a workshop that is about to close down. With some of his retired friends, he concocts a scheme to convert an abandoned decrepit bus in a park into a meeting place for young lovers, named the Happy Times Hut. He misleads Chunky Mama into thinking that he owns and manages a hotel, so Chunky Mama, seeing a opportunity to get rid of Wing Yu, persuades him to take her on as an employee. But then the local authorities remove the bus, and rather than admit that he is not what he seems to be, he and his friends proceed to create a fake massage parlour for the blind girl to work in.

    This is a complete change of pace from Zhang Yimou, the director of Raise the Red Lantern, Ju Dou and the overrated Hero. It has been described as a comedy, but it seems to me to be more a light-hearted sentimental drama, though I did find myself laughing a few times. It is a very well made film with excellent performances, especially by Benshan, who does not try to be funny but lets the character and situations speak for themselves. Jie Dong is also very good as Wing Yu. The script does not resolve every story strand as it would if made in the West, and thus it left me a tiny bit dissatisfied at the end, but it is still enjoyable if you don't expect another epic tale from this director. This would certainly be worthwhile as a rental.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced.

    The image is reasonably sharp and clear, and detail is quite good though I imagine it could have been better. The image looks slightly soft. Shadow detail is satisfactory.

    All of the primary colours on display are bright and vivid to the point of being oversaturated. Flesh tones also look to be accurate most of the time. The rest of the film seems a little muted in comparison, even when bright colours are visible on screen, which must be due either to the film stock used or to a lack of contrast in the transfer. This is not the first Chinese film I have seen that looks like this, so I suspect the former. Black levels are adequate.

    The only significant film to video artefact I noticed was edge enhancement, which is present throughout as a halo around objects where there is a transition from dark to light or vice versa. I imagine that this will be a problem to viewers with a larger screen size than mine. I found myself being distracted by it occasionally.

    Film artefacts are almost non-existent. There is an occasional small spot, but the frequency of these is so low that they are not disturbing.

    Subtitles are optionally available in English, and are US-friendly, with some American jargon. The subtitles are presented in white and are quite clear and easy to read. The subtitlers have taken the approach of prefacing some dialogue with the character name in sequences where two characters are talking, and I found myself objecting to the use of the name "Chunky Mama" for the lead character's fiancée. "Tall Fogy" did not seem right as a character name either.

    This is a single layer disc, so there is no layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The sole audio channel is Dolby Digital 5.1 and is in the original Mandarin.

    I had no problems understanding the dialogue. Well, actually, I couldn't understand the dialogue as it is in Mandarin, but I could hear it clearly. Audio sync seemed to be fine.

    The sound mix is not really state of the art. There are some surround effects, such as traffic noise that zooms across the front sound field, however I did not find the audio drawing me in to the film as much as it could have. The fronts get most of the action, with some ambient noise coming from the rear channels. The LFE channel seems to be overused, especially during music, which led to some inappropriate rumbling from the subwoofer.

    The music score is by Sao Bao and is a mix of Oriental and Occidental styles played with traditional Chinese instruments. It complements the film nicely.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    No extras are provided, not even a trailer.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The US Region 1 release has three trailers. Apart from that, reviews indicate that the video quality is better than on the UK Region 2. The latter appears to be identical to the Region 4.

    There is also a Region 3 release from China with the film entitled Happy Time. This features a different translation for the English subtitles and has an alternative ending running 9 minutes. Allegedly this was the original ending which Yimou was asked to change, but if that is the case it does not make sense that it would be allowed to be included on a mainland DVD release. This version also runs shorter than the US version due to censorship, and apparently the image quality is poor.

    None of the available releases seems definitive, but the Region 1 looks the safest bet at the moment.

Summary

    A nice film, but with missing footage, occasionally irritating Americanised subtitles and a less than stellar video transfer, it can hardly be recommended for purchase. The audio is good but there are no extras. Renting the disc might be the best option.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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