Mina Shum’s Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity (2002) may have been the film that got Sandra Oh cast in Sideways which may have been the role that got her cast on Grey’s Anatomy which may very well be the reason that her face is plastered on the Earth. I was reading one of these many articles on Oh that mentioned a DVD I was given ages ago but never got around to watching, Shum’s film. So I decided to check it out and see what this film was all about, besides Sandra Oh. Turns out it’s a modern day fairy tale that is really interesting and well worth serious consideration.
Long Life is one of these web films, where a bunch of seemingly autonomous people are brought together as the story progresses. The film portrays members of the Chinese immigrant population in Vancouver, Canada and centers on Kin (Sandra Oh) and her young daughter, Mindy. Mindy’s father has left them and Mindy is determined to get her mother a new man, specifically Alvin, a co-worker of hers at a Chinese restaurant. Mindy is interested in Chinese magic and her amateur attempts to use it begin to affect others in the community. All the characters in the film – a boy who lost his pet turtle, a man who lost his job, a man whose father hates him, a young man wanting to be a monk – are tied together by Mindy’s magic, though only Kin and Mindy know it.
I was taken by this film for two reasons. The first is rather embarrassing to admit. I have just completed a degree at a university in a large Canadian city complete with a sizable Chinese immigrant population. Their’s was a culture I simply could not understand. Or maybe it was that I refused to understand, beyond knowing what I wanted to order from Kom Jug Yuen and being able to eat it proficiently with chopsticks ($5.00 worth of BBQ pork and a small hot and sour soup if you’re curious). This film helped my WASPy self understand a culture that exists in North America but is very different from the mainstream. These rich characters shed light on the world in which they lived and gave me a ground on which to interact with them. These characters, despite my opinions of them before watching the film, are very easy to connect with and this is a testament to the power of film to help people understand each other.
The other reason I was struck by the film is this: Long Life is nothing more than a fairy tale! At one point, a character even says, “Only true love can break the spell.” The film’s story is somewhat formulaic but what sets this fairy tale apart is the focus on the concept of a benevolent supreme being, what we call God. All the characters have some sort of deity that they worship in their life, whether it be a family member, a shrine, magic, or something else. Everyone’s got one and everyone goes through a hard time. In the end, the film affirms this belief in a higher power, implying that God puts us through hard times but that he’s there through it all and that all will work out. The fairy tale is not about humans interacting with each other but rather humans interacting with God. And it validates this relationship.
A culturally illuminating simple story about God. Plus Sandra Oh was good and I can understand why we’re not allowed to escape her.