Happy Times : Production Notes


1992 British Academy of Film and Television Awards: Best Foreign Film

1992 New York Critics Circle Awards: Best Foreign Picture

1992 The Story of Qiuju Director

1992 The 49th International Venice Film Festival, Italy: Best Film, Golden Lion Award, and Best Actress

1992 The 15th Popular Film Baihua Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress

1992 The 12th Chinese Film JinJi Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress

1998 The First Changchun International Film Festival: Golden Cup

1993 To Live Director

1994 The 47th Cannes Film Festival, France: Winner of the Grand Jury Prize, Best Actor (Ge You)

1994 Golden Globe Awards: Nominated for Best Foreign Picture

1994 Annual Academy Awards: Best Foreign Picture

1994 Los Angeles Film Critics Association: Best Foreign Picture

1994 Shanghai Triad Director

1995 Annual National Society of Film Critics Awards: Best Foreign Picture

1995 The 48th Cannes Film Festival, France: Best Technical Grand Prize

1995 Golden Globe Awards: Nominated for Best Foreign Picture

1995 New York Film Critics Circle: Best Cinematography Award

1996 Annual Academy Awards: Nominated for Best Cinematography Award

1996 Keep Cool Director

1997 Turandot Performed at Florence Opera House, Italy, Director

1998 Turandot Performed at the Imperial Ancestor Temple of the Forbidden City, Beijing, Director

1998 Not One Less Director

1999 The 56th International Venice Film Festival, Italy: Golden Lion Award

1999 The 19th Chinese Film JinJi Awards: Best Director

1999 The 22nd Popular Film Baihua Awards: Best Drama

1999 Chinese Film "Hua Biao" Awards: Best Drama, Best Director

1999 European Film Awards: Nominated for Screen International Award (Non-European Film)

1998 The Road Home Director

2000 The 50th Berlin International Film Festival: Silver Bear Awards

2000 The 23rd Popular Film Baihua Awards: Best Drama, Best Actress

2000 The 20th Chinese Film JinJi Awards: Best Drama, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Artistic Direction

Personal Achievements of Zhang Yimou

1995 International Film Festival, Montreal, Canada: Named one of the Top Ten Outstanding Directors in the World

1995 International Film Festival, Hawaii, U. S. : Lifetime Achievement Award

1995 Named one of the 20 greatest directors of the modern world by Entertainment Weekly

1998 Named one of "10 Most Influential Figures in the World" by Time

1999 The 6th Asian Film Conference: Lifetime Achievement Award

New Media Reports

Noon News

Compared with Not One Less and Keep Cool, what breakthroughs will there be in Happy Times? In response to this question, Zhang Yimou said, "First of all, it's a comedy. At the same time, it should also be a tragic comedy. I wanted to follow a fluid rhythmical sense within the form, and to pursue the story's layers and complex plot, including what is unexpected. You have no idea where the story will lead. I believe audiences will be swept up in the story all the way through the final five minutes. After watching the last scene, you will feel this story is full of meaning, including some painful and complicated feelings, as well as other things calling for serious reflection. I hope the film will achieve this kind of effect and attract audiences. "

As for choosing Zhao Benshan as the leading actor of the film, Zhang Yimou had his own personal reasons: "Above all I think he is suitable. There was a lot of pressure using Zhao Benshan, and many thought I risked too much. But I have always been persistent. The character I initially thought of was him. When performing character sketches on stage, a good actor is one who can evoke a reaction from an audience within five minutes; however, many actors cannot perform these small sketches or skits. Improvisation is more important for sketch actors than for others, and I appreciate a sketch actor's ability to improvise according to the circumstances. I am not biased; I need Zhao Benshan's wits and humor, and I want him to bring his talent into play. As a result, we adopted the style to 'throw away the script' on the spot. All the actors were called together to read through their lines, and I then decided what to say and what not to say. What was really interesting was that Zhao Benshan's lines changed every time. At first, Fu Biao, Li Xuejian, and several other good actors felt uncomfortable working with Zhao Benshan, and could never manage a response to his lines. But everyone gelled together quickly and was able to appreciate the others. Everyone felt that this was a good way to work. Each tried to adapt to the other's characteristics, and in this way, we were able to achieve a certain harmony. We paid particular attention to the sparks that appeared right then and there. We later found there was more humor in the spontaneity than in the script, and that this more accurately reflected the mindsets of everyday people. As you can see, the supporting roles we chose also belong to the working class and the peasants, such as the retired worker and the young blind girl, who generally arouse little interest in society. But they are able to distinguish good from evil.

They have the innate goodness of human beings, as well as their own individual characteristics. The character that Zhao Benshan played has a strong personality, with both virtues and shortcomings mixed together. His shortcomings are present from the beginning to the end. Just thinking about it, only Zhao Benshan could make this character jump off the pages of the script, alive to the audience. There are few who can exaggerate the language so well to make other people laugh like him. It doesn't mean that Zhao Benshan is exaggerated in his own life. It's just that his long experience on stage has made him outstanding in this respect. In the end, he blends in with the role perfectly. His performance was excellent, with many sparks and ideas. His other outstanding merit is his selflessness in performance. He always helps others with their dialogue and actions. Because of his rich experience on stage, the words come effortlessly from his mouth. I didn't want him to abandon his northeastern accent and suggested only that he not use expressions that are too rural. He was like a stranded fish put back into water, then burst out with a series of terrific lines. What's more, he has a good personality, and we had a pleasant working relationship. The other actors also did their best in their supporting roles. Li Xuejian is a great star. Fu Biao has developed very quickly these past years. They united the cast for me. Originally they worried about cooperating with each other, but the result was problem-free. Li Xuejian and Fu Biao's scenes are few, but they are wonderful. They all have their personalities, and I am satisfied. "

Chinese Film

The part of the young blind girl, played by Dong Jie, is representative of those who are weak in life. She seems like a small flower, alone and tossed by the wind, and this makes people pity her. The smile that appeared on her face after being treated with care, by one who is as kind as Zhao Benshan, is a rare sight. Together with her tears, this smile has the power to conquer people's hearts. Showing concern for the common people is the best way for a film to move an audience.

Beijing Youth

Happy Times is Zhang Yimou's latest film in an urban setting that follows Keep Cool. On this point, Zhang said frankly, "I'm a normal person and have the usual shortcomings of normal people. I was influenced by many other directors when I filmed Keep Cool. At that time people maintained that I would fail in making a film about city life on the grounds that I had made films set in the countryside for so long. Subconsciously, I wanted to prove them wrong. Looking back on Keep Cool, I can find several places where I may have intentionally exposed the city messages. When it came to Happy Times, I didn't care much about an urban theme or a rural theme. I just followed the story and filmed it as naturally as possible. "

Though it is based on one of Mo Yan's novels, the plot has been changed considerably. Characters who did not exist in the novel, such as the blind girl, were added. However, Zhang Yimou thinks Happy Times is consistent with Mo Yan's novel on the level of the surreal. Just as Zhang said, Keep Cool has some surreal points, but the speaking style of that film is too modern and unconventional. However, the style of this film is simple and plain, but the content is surreal and could be called "black comedy. " Zhang Yimou, known to the world for his dramas Raise the Red Lantern, Ju Dou, and To Live, is an expert in tragic film. However, this time he has begun to experiment with "black humor" and comedy. The main actors in this film, Zhao Benshan, Fu Biao, Niu Ben and Dong Lifan, are all comedians known in every Chinese household for their ability to touch people's hearts with laughter. Under the guise of comedy, however, Happy Times is clearly not as joyful as its name. The tears that follow the laughter are still bitter.

Popular Film

Zhang Yimou said, "I wanted to try a new style this time when filming Happy Times. This is to pack tragic content with the shell of a comedy and have the audience experience pain following laughter. From an artistic standpoint, it's the highest level of drama. If only Happy Times would make audiences think while at the same time providing happiness!

"It is normal to publicly advertise for actors through the media. Just as selecting the subject matter of the scenes, to look for a suitable actor is an important part of the director's artistic creation. Dong Jie's rise and fall in the selection was not intentionally created, as the media claims, but the result of our broad selection, a complete comparison and balance of relative importance. Making a film is a comprehensive artistic creation. If the wrong person is appointed as crew member, they can be replaced later. If the main actor has to be changed in the middle of the filming process, the loss is unimaginable. Therefore, it is crucial to film creation to choose exactly the right actor to play a moving story and express the director's creative impulses and aesthetic ideas. After years of practice, I think half of the success of a film depends on the script and half on the actors. This is the real reason I choose actors from the media. It seems to be deliberately exaggerated, so as to create a sensation, and some reports found fault with this from the standpoint of personal and moralistic views. There is no sense in explaining with great effort now. I only want to say - please watch our film. If Happy Times moves you and brings you any happiness, you will realize that we have put much thought into the selection of the ideal actor. "

Zhao Benshan

1997 Keep Cool

1997 The Emperor and the Assassin

1999 Nan Fu Nu Zhu Ren

Li Xuejian

1982 Journey to Tianshan

1985 General Gang Cuo

1987 Gu Shu the Artist

1988 The Great Detective

1990 Jiao Yulu

1992 In The Forties

1992 Past Times

1993 The Blue Kite

1993 Phantom

1995 Shanghai Triad

1995 The Flying Tigers

1997 The Emperor and the Assassin

1997 Keep Cool

1999 Born

Fu Biao

Partial Filmography

Ormosia from the North

1994 Shanghai Triad

1997 The Dream Factory

1997 Summer Love

1999 Mei Wan Mei Liao

2000 A Sign

Niu Ben

Partial Filmography

Story of the Holy City

Cremation

Soul of the Sea

Ding Dong Spring

The Horseman

You Yuan

To Live

In all, approximately 40 films total.

Screenwriter: Gui Zi

Formerly co-editor-in-chief of Li River, a literary magazine.

Principal Works: The Rainy River, Sleepy Girl, Who Opened the Door?, Criminal, A Student's Essay, The Sad Black Goat, The Brother from the Countryside, etc. , approximately 1,000,000 words.

Cinematographer: Hou Yong

Principal Works: Sun Yat-sen, The Evening Bell, The Blue Kite, Rebellion of the Son of Heaven, The Opium War, Not One Less, The Road Home

Art: Cao Yongping

Principal Works: Red Sorghum, The Chess Master, Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern, The Story of Qiuju, To Live, Shanghai Triad, The Emperor's Shadow, Keep Cool, Not One Less, The Road Home

Recording: Wu Lala

Principal Works: Looking for Fun, Beijing Bastard, The Square, Follow Me Once, Son, Destiny for a Half Life, East Palace and West Palace, Mr. Zhao, Love Ma La Tang, Not One Less, The Road Home

Music: San Bao

Principal Works: Not One Less, After Divorce, Be There or Be Square, The Road Home

Literary Planning: Wang Bin

Principal Works: To Live, Shanghai Triad, Keep Cool, Not One Less, The Road Home, Ben Ming Year, Good Morning, Beijing!, In The Forties, Pretty Mother, The Dreamy Field

Editing: Qu Ru

Principal Works: Keep Cool, Mr. Zhao, Not One Less, The Road Home

Producers: Zhang Zhenyan, Hu Xiaofeng

Principal Works: The Story of Qiujiu, To Live, Shanghai Triad, Keep Cool, Not One Less, The Road Home

Happy Times

Producer: Zhao Yu

Executive Producer: Yang Qinglong, Zhang Weiping, Zhou Ping

Adapted from Shifu, You'll Do Anything for a Laugh, a novel by Mo Yan

Screenwriter: Gui Zi

Cinematographer: Hou Yong

Art: Cao Jiuping

Recording: Wu Lala

Composer: San Bao

Literary Planning: Wang Bin

Editing: Qu Ru

Producers: Zhang Zhenyan, Hu Xiaofeng

Leading Actor: Zhao Benshan

Actors: Dong Jie, Fu Biao, Li Xuejian, Niu Ben, Gong Jinghua, Dong Lifan

Supporting Actors: Zhang Hongjie, Zhao Bingkui, Sun Honglei, Lan Yi, Fan Wei

Photographer: Bai Xiaoyan

Director: Zhang Yimou

Zhang Yimou

Born in Xi'an, Shaanxi, China on Nov. 14, 1950

1957-1962 Tong Ji Fang Elementary School, Xi'an

1962-1966 No. 30 Middle School, Xi'an

1968-1971 Sent to work in the countryside, County Qian, Shaanxi

1978-1982 Department of Cinematography, Beijing Film Academy

1982- Cinematographer and Director at Guangxi Film Studio

Award-winning films by Zhang Yimou

1981 Little Courtyard Cinematography

1982 Red Elephant Cinematography

1983 One and Eight Cinematography

1984 China Film Best Cinematography Award

1984 Yellow Earth Cinematography

1985 Asia, Africa and Latin America International Film Festival, Nantes, France: Best Cinematography

1985 International Film Festival, Locarno, Switzerland: Silver Leopard Award

1985 International Film Festival, Hawaii: Best Cinematography

1985 The 5th Chinese Film JinJi Awards: Best Cinematography

1985 The Big Parade Cinematography

1985 The World Film Festival, Montreal, Canada: Special Jury Awards

1986 Old Well Actor

1988 The 11th Popular Film Baihua Awards: Best Drama, Best Actor

1988 The 8th Chinese Film JinJi Awards: Best Drama, Best Director, Best Actor

1987 The 1st International Film Festival, Tokyo: Best Picture, Best Actor

1987 Red Sorghum Director

1988 The 38th Berlin International Film Festival: Golden Bear Award

1988 The 11th Popular Film Baihua Awards: Best Drama

1988 The 8th Chinese Film JinJi Awards: Best Drama, Best Cinematography

1988 Code Name Cougar Director

1989 The 12th Popular Film Baihua Awards: Best Supporting Actress (Gong Li)

1989 Gu Jin Da Zhan Qin Yong Qing Director

1990 The 40th Berlin International Film Festival: Recreational Film Honor

1990 Ju Dou Director

1990 The 43rd International Film Festival, Gana, France: Bunoair Special Prize

1991 The 63rd Annual Academy Awards: nominated for Best Foreign Picture

1991 Raise the Red Lantern Director

1992 The 64th Annual Academy Awards: nominated for Best Foreign Picture

1991 The 48th International Venice Film Festival, Italy: Silver Lion Award

In May 2000, TOM. COM announced that Happy Times, Zhang Yimou's latest film, would cooperate with the Web site in order to publicly select the leading actress over the Internet. What attracted many people's attention was not only Zhang Yimou's sensational effect as a celebrity in the international film industry, but also the fact that it was the first time the Internet would be used to advertise for an actor or actress in China. This is the first cooperation between TOM. COM and the world-class director, as well as the first attempt to collaborate film and TV with the Internet. Following this announcement, TOM. COM worked closely with the film crew based on the principles of reporting timely, in detail, and accurately. Since it was "a new attempt"(as Zhang Yimou said), the film crew could not completely abandon conventional methods in looking for an actress. They would carry out the search throughout the country with the same approach that Zhang Yimou has often used.

At the same time, TOM. COM specially opened a mailbox that would be checked twice daily in the post office. Special employees were called upon to receive e-mails, read every letter carefully, and respond sincerely. The film crew would subsequently give a first audition to each candidate selected through the Internet or in the conventional way and then make the list for callback audition. After a broad selection, the director would review the information concerning the audition and select several candidates. They would then be compared again and reselected in a subsequent series of auditions until the "happy girl" was found.

After the selection process began over the Internet in early May, we cooperated with several newspapers to select the leading actress in nine large cities. The newspapers included Changchun New Culture, Shenyang China Business Morning, Dalian Peninsula Morning, Guangxi Business, Jinan Times, Hangzhou Qian River Evening, Guangdong Southern City, Hunan Woman Today, and Chengdu West China City. With the help of the nine newspaper offices and TOM. COM, the film crew interviewed about 10,000 applicants. After careful selection and comparison with the candidates from other selection channels, Dong Jie, a young woman from Dalian, won.

Dong Jie and Zhang Yimou had a casual first meeting that was not really an audition. The director only asked a few questions while they chatted. Zhang Yimou thought Dong Jie was not as sophisticated as the modern girl in the script. This role had faded from Dong Jie's mind during the wait, and she continued happily singing and dancing.

One day in June, Dong Jie and several other young women selected though the Internet attended the second interview. This time Zhang Yimou felt she was more suitable, but was not thin enough. Dong Jie immediately expressed that she could lose weight quickly. She lost more than 10 pounds after several weeks of intensive training. In early July, Dong Jie went back to Dalian and attended the final auditions for Happy Times. After a period of real-life learning experience and an examination of all the criteria, she finally became the leading actress of Happy Times. Director Zhang Yimou expressed his appreciation to all the young women who participated the selection process and to the media that helped the film crew. He said his task was now to make a good film.

Synopsis of Happy Times

Old Zhao, a retired worker, fell in love with a big woman, and his greatest wish was to marry her. It embarrassed him that on their first date the woman asked for 50,000 RMB to cover the cost of the wedding. In order to keep the woman of his dreams from leaving him, he promised her the money on the spot. But without a penny in his pockets, he was forced to go here and there, borrowing money from everyone he knew.

Xiao Fu, Old Zhao's apprentice, thought of a solution. It was to make money by turning an old train car behind the factory into a place for lovers to "date. " After decorating and naming the car "The Happy Times House," business began. Though Old Zhao doesn't want to go through all of this, he forced himself to continue in order to marry the woman he loves. Old Zhao lied and boasted when he told the Big Woman he was the chief manager of the Happy Times Hotel.

One day, when Old Zhao was visiting the Big Woman, he met the young blind girl left by the woman's ex-husband. The Big Woman disliked the young girl and wanted to relieve herself of the burden of caring for her. She played upon Old Zhao's feelings and asked him to employ the blind girl. Old Zhao found himself in a dilemma. Pressured by his hope for marriage, he felt compelled to have the young girl come work in the "Happy Times House. "

Unfortunately, the old car was suspended in the air when Old Zhao brought the blind girl to "work. " He had to send the girl back, but there was no longer any place for the girl in the woman's house. Looking at the homeless girl, Old Zhao was overcome by pity and brought her back to his own home. Since the girl had a professional skill, with the help of Xiao Fu and other workers, Old Zhao turned the discarded workshop into a massage parlor and helped her to regain her confidence.

Kindhearted people like Old Zhao, the blind girl, and the workers decided to faithfully continue with this bittersweet irony.

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