This month, I watched the 1994 dramedy Double Happiness, by Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Mina Shum.
Jade Li (Sandra Oh) is a young Hong Kong born woman living in Vancouver with her strict Chinese family. Jade’s parents (Stephen Chang and Alannah Ong) frown at her ambitions to be an actress and they would rather that she find a nice Chinese man to settle down with, such as possible suitor Andrew Chau (Johnny Mah). However, Jade continues to pursue her acting dreams and secretly begins dating nerdy white grad student Mark (Callum Keith Rennie).
Double Happiness was the debut feature film from Hong Kong born, Vancouver raised filmmaker Mina Shum, with it being fair to assume that the film is at least partially based on the filmmaker’s own experiences with her family. Double Happiness was also the breakthrough film for Sandra Oh, who won Best Actress at the Genie Awards for her role in the film.
Even though Double Happiness was made nearly a full decade earlier, my closest comparison to the film would be My Big Fat Greek Wedding. While Double Happiness does not feature a wedding, it is similar to My Big Fat Greek Wedding in how you deal with the culture of your family, while also trying to make your own dreams come true. Jade’s father is so strict about preserving the Chinese culture in his family, that he disowned Jade’s brother after he left to live on his own. Jade is now of the age where she must make a decision about the future and whether she’ll choose her family’s happiness over her own.
At the centre of Jade’s crisis is her secret relationship with Mark, played by Callum Keith Rennie in one of his earliest roles. Double Happiness predates Rennie’s breakthrough Hard Core Logo by two years and Mark is much more nerdy and awkward person, than the cool and popular guitarist Billy Tallent. Is is also notable that Callum Keith Rennie is the only Caucasian with a sizable role in Double Happiness, with the rest of the cast being made up primarily of Chinese actors.
Following Double Happiness, which was nominated for seven Genie Awards, winning two, Mina Shum only directed a handful of follow-up features, with most of her filmography consisting of short films and TV work. However, Shum’s latest feature Meditation Park just premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and I will make sure to try and catch up with it in the near future.
Overall, Double Happiness is a well-done drama dealing with the conflict that comes with respecting your culture and family, while also wanting to forge your own path.