February 7, 2003
By Susan Walker
With the sure hand of a skilled miniaturist, Mina Shum has crafted a nearly flawless film in Long Life, Happiness And Prosperity, a movie that, like an Alice Munro short story, locates the universal in the particular.
The action all takes place within a few blocks of a grimy downtown Chinese neighbourhood in Vancouver. Twelve-year-old Mindy Ho (Valerie Tian) is studying a book of Taoist magic in an effort to improve her mother's fortunes and bring her happiness.
Sandra Oh plays Kin, a hard-working single, slightly hardened mother who works extra shifts in a restaurant and moonlights as a telephone psychic to pay the bills.
Two secondary stories are intertwined with theirs: Shuck Wong (Chang Tseng) has lost his job as a security guard in a shipyard just a few years shy of his retirement date. He conceals his firing from his wife Hun Ping Wong, who, trying to overcome the loss of a daughter who has grown up and left home, connives to bring romance back into their marriage.
Bing Lai (Ric Young) works at a butcher shop. He is powerfully motivated to make good after being rejected by his father, who hasn't spoken to him for 20 years. Bing sets himself up for his own parental disappointment by encouraging his own son to become a butcher. The son has other ideas: he wants to become a Buddhist monk.
Oscillating between gentle humour and harsh reality, Long Life, Happiness And Prosperity is an urban fairy tale that charms us into a willing suspension of disbelief. Mindy's first experiments with Chinese magic backfire. But not entirely.
Her mother doesn't win the $250,000 Dragon lottery, but Bing does, after stepping in the path of Mindy's opposing mirrors and magic pebbles. In an effort to spur romance between her mother and Alvin, the restaurant manager, Mindy buys a love potion and puts it in their tea. Nelson, Bing's boss, comes along and after drinking the tea intended for Kin, becomes the object of Alvin's affection.
Shuck's despair over joblessness leads him to the brink of suicide when he spots a missing turtle - brought back when one of Mindy's magic rituals works.
There's irony in the way that Canadian-born Mindy embraces old-world beliefs while her mother rejects them. Shum and Foon have crafted a story that turns on a subtle interplay of Chinese and North American cultural conventions.
Little gestures elucidate the unspoken: A little boy wearing a Chinese mask on the back is a symbolic reminder of the ever-present danger of losing face that plays a part in each of the stories here.
Shum's direction, seeming to draw on Asian dramatic conventions that stress facial expression, wrings some captivating performances from her actors, especially Oh and Tian - a remarkably adept young actor - Ric Young and Chang Tseng.
A comedy with Shakespearean dimensions, Long Life, Happiness And Prosperity ends happily, with love - romantic and parental - superseding magic.
Peter Wunstorf's cinematography carries the shifting moods and brings the transformative moments into high relief, creating richly coloured tableaux against the mostly gray background.
On these garbage-strewn streets, where survival is never easy, miracles are made.
--Susan Walker/ Toronto Star - Review
February 7, 2003
Delightful story of love and hope: In Long Life, Happiness & Prosperity, an adolescent girl tries to fix the world with magic. Using a book of Taoist charms from the local Fortune Telling and Appliance Repair Shop, Mindy (Valerie Tian) hopes to find a missing turtle, help her single mom win the lottery and maybe fix up her mother's love life, too.
The charms might be working, but not exactly as Mindy intended. Long Life, Happiness & Prosperity tells three interconnected stories about family, love and hope, and always with a light and deft touch.
Set in Vancouver's Chinese Canadian community, Long Life, Happiness & Prosperity manages to cover a lot of generational ground. Mindy worries about her mother (Sandra Oh), who is a bit of a workaholic. She wants her mom to have a romance with a co-worker, and prepares a love potion to help things along. The results are hilarious.
Meanwhile, Mindy's neighbour, Shuck (Chang Tseng), is close to retirement, but then loses his job. And his dignity and his sense of purpose. It's a situation that shakes Shuck's religious faith.
Another neighbour, Bing Lai (Ric Young), struggles with his pride, not to mention with estrangement from his father and potential estrangement from his own son. He suddenly finds prosperity, but not the sort he needs. For a film that is often surreal and humourous, Long Life, Happiness & Prosperity will certainly grab you by the heart.
Filmmaker Mina Shum has said that she wanted to make an O. Henry-style fable with this movie, and she has succeeded in that. Using the child's perspective, Shum conveys just how large the world looms and just how fruitless our efforts to cope and keep faith sometimes seem. Luckily, miracles do happen, especially to children. The performances in Long Life, Happiness & Prosperity are all very strong, and child actor Valerie Tian is particularly good. The story is smart and entirely charming in intent and execution; above all, Long Life, Happiness & Prosperity is about hope. Hope is good.
--Unknown/ Toronto Sun - Review