Happy Times opens with an awkward coffee-shop date that suggests this bittersweet comedy's gonna be the middle-aged Asian answer to Next Stop Wonderland. It goes much deeper than that. Thinking he's met his corpulent dream woman, Zhao (Zhao Benshan), a laid-off factory worker in his 50s, sets out to raise cash for an extravagant wedding by opening a lovers' hideaway in an abandoned bus. When that plan fails, he tries to woo his sweetheart by finding work for the blind stepdaughter (Dong Jie) she despises. Things gently unravel from there. Although a little more character development would help, Yimou (Raise The Red Lantern, Shanghai Triad) keeps things lovely and understated, allowing strong performances by Zhao and Dong to drive the plot, and the ending is as unexpected as it is heartbreaking. 106 minutes.
HAPPY TIMES (Zhang Yimou) Rating: NNNN