Double Happiness (1994)

Review

Mina Shum, in her writer/director’s notes on Double Happiness, makes her life story sound like a modern-day Book of Job: She’s an unappreciated Chinese-Canadian twentysomething. She left home at 18 and didn’t have any furniture. She worked at McDonald’s. And she made a movie about all this.

Well, cry me a river. Double Happiness is probably the most blatantly self-centered film I’ve seen all year. After all, when people say, ‘Write what you know,’ they don’t mean, ‘Write about YOU YOU YOU!’ The idea is to take a personal story and make it accessible to the masses. This movie is just one big, running, inside joke.

The story: Jade, a Chinese-Canadian twentysomething (Sandra Oh), is unappreciated at home. Her father (Stephen Chang) is domineering and wants her to be ‘a good Chinese girl.’ Mother (Alannah Ong) is no help at all. In a fit of hormonal lunacy, Jade picks up Mark (Callum Rennie) — get this — a white guy she sees vomiting outside a trendy nightclub. Mom and Dad do not approve; they keep trying to set Jade up with lawyers and doctors. Now, see if you can guess the big ending.

The sad thing is, it could have been a good movie. Unfortunately, bad acting on a general level really hampers the film, especially during the melodrama of the family struggle, where everything seems almost farcical. Also, the movie’s supposed to be a comedy/drama (I think), but a number of opportunities to infuse some much-needed humor are missed. Like they say a number of times during the film, Jade looks just like Connie Chung — and Connie Chung does not do comedy.

Thankfully, Shum’s direction is assured, stylish, and innovative, and the best moments in this film are completely visual. (And, with music by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, the band from The Kids in the Hall, the audio isn’t bad, either.) Unfortunately, this is just icing on a poorly cooked cake.

The sad bottom line is that Double Happiness is simply unnecessary and isn’t even uplifting, as it was intended. Save your money and get the moral to the story here: Life sucks, and you better just get used to it. (As a side note, I take some consolation that Shum has since faded into nearly complete obscurity. Justice lives!)