Zhao is an old laid-off worker who's dreaming of getting married. After trying unsuccessful proposals, he is finally paired off with a gargantuan divorcée with two children. She, however, demands a lavish wedding and that Zhao finds a job and another place to stay for her blind step-daughter. Pretending he's the General Manager of a non-existent posh hotel "Happy Times", Zhao had to find ways and means of keeping both mother and stepdaughter happy.
After Zhang Yimou's split with his leading actress and muse Gong Li his films changed from the lush, rich tales of passion like Red Sorghum, Raise the Red Lantern, Ju Dou and Shanghai Triad. His last two films Not One Less and The Road Home have been more intimate, more compassionate and Happy Times continues in that tradition.
The ridiculous plot of Happy Times has unemployed former teacher Zhao (Zhao Benshan) desperately trying to find 50,000 dong in order to marry an amply endowed divorcee played by Dong Lifan who indulges the overweight son of her most recent marriage and treats Little Wu, the blind stepdaughter from a previous one appallingly. When Zhao and a friend turn an abandoned bus into a trysting place for would-be lovers he boasts to his intended that he owns a hotel. Seeing a chance to get little Wu out of her hair she insists that Zhao give the girl a job in his hotel. But the bus is reclaimed by the city so Zhao, with a little help from his friends turns a section of a disused factory into a massage parlour for Wu to work, the friends pretending to be the clients. I warned you the plot was ridiculous. But it's just a mechanism for the development of the relationship between the hapless Zhao and Wu.
Happy Times works because of the really charming performances and the funny situations that emerge from a script that someone suggested would suit the Farrelly Brothers. I laughed out loud. But the film just seems to drop off the end of the known world in its resolution, it's very strange. I'm sometimes nostalgic for Zhang Yimou's gorgeous early films, this one made me feel a bit better about his recent change in direction.