Education About Asia: Online Archives

Using Zhang Yimou’s Happy Times as a Path Toward Cross-Cultural Understanding

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Zhang Yimou’s Happy Times has been both praised and criticized by film reviewers worldwide. It has been described as “sweet and funny”
by some, while others have deemed it an “unsatisfying” work.1 While lauded as “reflective, compassionate and affectionate,”2 it has also been dismissed as a “bland, patronizing piece with little in the way of social observation.”3 One reviewer from a Christian Web site gave the film a positive rating, but lamented that its plot centered upon “pity, deception and love,” thus making it a morally flawed ambivalent film.”4 Indeed, Roger Ebert noted that “when American critics” praised the movie, they did not truly understand it, but rather were “making some kind of concession to its Chinese origins.”5 Likewise, when I showed it to an audience of both American and Asian ESL undergraduates as part of our Asian film night, reactions were mixed, mirroring those of film reviewers.6