from Film Forum, 08/15/02
Happy Times is the new film from director Zhang Yimou, who brought us the moving, vivid, delightful love story The Road Home last year, and the overwhelming historical epic To Live before that. This film tells the story of a man seeking a wife late in his life, but who finds instead a charming deaf girl who becomes like a daughter. According to early reviews, this film doesn't have the weight, or the rewards, of Zhang's previous work.
J. Robert Parks (The Phantom Tollbooth) says it's the first the first Zhang film he "can't wholeheartedly endorse. Zhang's trademark use of color is rarely seen, and the images largely lay flat on the screen. The same is true of his latest ingénue, Dong Jie. … True, being blind is a difficult role, but it's still a rather lifeless portrayal." Though not wholehearted, it's an endorsement nonetheless: "Happy Times might be worth seeing just to see Zhao Benshan. His performance as a man desperate to get married is wonderful."
Ted Baehr (Movieguide) is harsher on the film because of its focus on self-confidence. "For those who have an inkling of the dry rot which is Communism, it is easy to see the director grinding his ax. This subtle exposé of the Chinese Communist society is limited by its lackluster portrait of hope. The director understands that people are deeply flawed, but does not recognize in this movie at least that the answer is not themselves, but the salvation which is freely available in Jesus Christ."