By Julianna Perkins
In this 2002 feature-length drama, director Mina Shum succeeds in crafting an intimate portrait of the Chinese community in Vancouver.
More than that, though, Shum captures the everyday realities of Chinese-Canadian immigrant life and uses them to weave a story of precocious youthfulness, stubborn old age and strained family dynamics.
Long Life, Happiness & Prosperity is a winding tale that follows three storylines as they tangle.
The individual stories and characters are brought together by protagonist Mindy Lum (Valerie Tian) and her penchant for Taoist charms. Dedicated to magically solving her mother’s problems, Mindy becomes discouraged when nothing seems to work. Little does she realize that all of her spells have been just slightly off, accidentally affecting the rest of the community instead of her own family.
Long Life represents near-retired Shuck Wong (Tseng Chang) and his wife Hun Ping Wong (Tsai Chin) as they struggle to adapt to change late in life.
Happiness is the story of the film’s young and superstitious lead Mindy as she attempts countless spells and charms in a desperate quest to help her mother, Kin Ho Lum (Sandra Oh) find love and wealth.
Prosperity, the final thread, follows butcher Bing Lai’s (Ric Young) attempt to reconcile both his relationship with his estranged father and his expectations of his own son Peter (Kameron Xiao).
The film’s plot is cute, well-written and entertaining. Shum and co-writer Dennis Foon do an excellent job of creating a balanced story; there’s a little bit of laughter, a couple tears here and there, and you finish the movie feeling as though all the separate storylines have come to a conclusion.
The film’s greatest strength, however, is its cast.
There is no whitewashing here; this isn’t Ghost in the Shell or that weird Netflix version of Death Note. This cast is almost entirely Asian and the film has long stretches of dialogue in Cantonese (thankfully, my version had subtitles. Some versions do not).
It’s refreshing, to say the least, to move away from the white-dominated cinema screen and it is the single-most factor that makes the film feel so authentic and intimate.
But while the film is engaging, it can also be a bit slow. Director Shum makes up for that fact, however, by creating a detailed and attractive visual framework; at times, it feels as though the plot is secondary to the art.
Each scene is vivid, and some experimental camera angles add even more life to the film. At one point near the movie’s beginning, we are driven through a dim sum restaurant from a first-hand perspective on top of a waiter’s cart. We burst through the kitchen doors into a chaotic back room, and for a second you feel as though you yourself are interrupting.
The lighting, too, works to paint another layer of realism. Most of the scenes are lit softly and dimly as if to reflect the gray overcast skies that so often shroud Vancouver.
All of Shum’s meticulously curated details work together to create an incredible film about a community. An Asian community. And it is depicted with all of the intricacies of its culture in a way that Shum, an independent Chinese-Canadian filmmaker raised in Vancouver, understands and emboldens.
Long Life, Happiness & Prosperity succeeds as both a rom-com and a focused and animated observation of a city. The film may be 16 years old, but it’s lost none of its charm to time.
This piece was edited by Brent Smyth.