Double Happiness (1994)
Directed and Written by Mina Shum
I really enjoyed Double Happiness. In fact, the phrase which first sprang to mind was "all kinds of wonderful". And hey, never more pleased was I than to be watching a slow moving, character driven Canadian film again. I really missed my slow moving, character driven Canadian films. Now I need to search out some non Callum Keith Rennie/Paul Gross ones. To be fair, though, Double Happiness isn't that slow, and whilst it's undeniably Canadian, it's Chinese-Canadian - a rare subset in and of itself. I actually have a very close friend who comes from this background, or I did until we drifted apart. Still, the point remains. I remembered stories she told me, and it helped me to relate. Adelaide is also especially multicultural, and I went to school with many kids from Chinese-Australian families. In a lot of ways, the divergence and convergence of cultures is very similar.
I adored Sandra Oh (who is actually of Korean-Canadian descent) in Wilby Wonderful, and if I ever watch Grey's Anatomy it will be for her. She was brilliant in this. She conveys character so well, and it’s incredibly easy to empathise with the character she plays. Jade is complex but relatable. Scenes are also interspersed with Jade, as an aspiring actress, acting other roles. This is played well and with little confusion – there’s always some relevance to the juxtaposed scenes. I liked Jade a lot, and this is in no small part to Sandra Oh’s lovely performance.
And then there’s Callum – and better yet, Callum playing a geek called Mark. Oh so pleased. “Ahh, are you uhhh, emotionally attached to any… umm, guy… I mean ahhh… other than your dad?” hahahahah! Nice pick-up line there, buddy. And Jade, you are so amusingly evil to pretend to not know what he’s saying. He looks ridiculously young (he’s not as young as he looks), he’s vulnerable, sweetly obnoxious, and he’s right up there with Newbie, Leoben and Duck for characters-other-than-Ray-K-whom-I-love-w
I like films with subtitles - I especially like when they're misused for humour. For instance, Jade's mother repeats Jade when she says "rehearsing" and it comes up on screen as "ree-her-zing". Funny. I also kind of love listening to Cantonese. Perhaps it’s because I don’t hear it everyday (though I do hear it and Mandarin quite a lot on the bus – I haven’t yet managed to distinguish between the two, but I’m sure I eventually will).
The music, by the overwhelmingly talented Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (who also do the music for The Kids in the Hall), was excellent to listen to. This was almost the only music in the film except for a couple bars of Jade singing “Kung Fu Fighting” and the ever fantastic “MacArthur Park”, which was performed karaoke style by Jade’s father (Stephen Chang). That scene was wonderful. When I realised it was “MacArthur Park” I burst out laughing, and didn’t stop for a long time. We have a long history, that song and I.
The sets and photography sustain the interest beyond the conventional. Similar to Wilby Wonderful, they're not entirely commercial but they're not entirely arthouse either. There was some really nice framing which grabbed my attention, where a shot of a secondary character was far right, and there was just this space – which represented her detachment from the main action of the scene.
There are a couple of laugh-out-loud moments, but it’s mostly wryly amusing. The film is about family, culture and the problems which can arise from these two things intertwined. Patriarchy is an almost insurmountable barrier. It does a good job of showing these in a biased yet inclusive way. There’s a strong theme of expectation – both imposed by others and self-imposed and this is a universal theme, but highlighted from the Chinese-Canadian standpoint.
I think the plot needed some tweaking. We start off with a shot of Jade giving a monologue, and my leaning towards cyclical and balanced stories would have preferred if it had ended that way too. It ends on Jade closing the curtain on you, so to speak, which is great, but I think it would have been even better with the monologue. Of course, I would also have had more scenes with Mark because Sandra and Callum have such chemistry together, and as said before, Callum = sex.
I could probably go on for several more paragraphs but instead I choose to go do something else. I’m really glad I got to see this film. I wanted to as soon as I heard about it, and it didn’t disappoint.
I don’t think I mentioned she has an incredible beauty, did I?
And she has natural screen charisma.
Look at the glasses! I love geeky Callum almost more than cool Callum. Okay, so I love geeky Callum a lot more.
People like touching Callum’s face. I can’t say I blame them.
The wonderful MacArthur Park scene.
Ahh. Forget teaching, I want to do this all my life ;). Um. No, I don't mean sing "MacArthur Park". Wise guy.