Double Happiness

on July 28, 1995 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
   One of the stronger debuts of the year, Mina Shum's "Double Happiness" is an engaging study of Jade Li (Sandra Oh), a young Chinese-American woman torn between her own artistic aspirations and the traditional attitudes of her Old World parents (Stephen Chang and Alannah Ong). The actress-minded Jade has begun to audition for local commercials in her Vancouver hometown, but her parents don't take her work seriously and prefer she marry--definitely a Chinese, and preferably one who's a lawyer or doctor. To placate her folks, Jade goes on arranged dates, if without enthusiasm, only to enthusiastically fall in love with a young man (Callum Rennie)--who's white. It's then that Jade must decide for whom she's living her life.
   Shum juxtaposes Jade's plight effectively, winding the tension of Jade's two lives to a climactic pitch, and is aided by Oh's performance, whose skill and subtlety are best evidenced in the scenes between Jade and her impressionable younger sister (Frances You). Also doing good work are Ong as Jade's peacemaker mother and Chang as her stern father, who can't forget that his own dreams of being an architect were dashed in his adopted country and so wants his daughter to fulfill them by proxy.
   Even some scenes in which the actors talk to the camera, revealing their characters' innermost thoughts and desires, are effective. Ironically, the film's weakest links are those that perhaps reflect Shum's creative struggles. Her attempts to deal with Chinese/white relationships, and with the stereotypical perceptions held by the dominant white culture, detract from the main story and would have been better handled in another movie.    Starring Sandra Oh, Alannah Ong and Stephen Chang. Directed and written by Mina Shum. Produced by Steve Hegyes and Rose Lam Waddell. A Fine Line release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 86 min.
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