Jade Li (Sandra Oh) is a young woman who is struggling to break away from both the expectations of her family and the constraints North American society place on her. That break away moment happens quite literally on screen in a cathartic scene where she tears off her coat and runs through the darkness, flailing her arms and screaming into the night.
Written and directed by Vancouver’s Mina Shum, Double Happiness is a coming-of-age picture of a woman trying to be herself while surrounded by people who want her to conform. She’s starting her career as an actress but with each audition she realizes the limitations of casting directors’ imaginations when the only roles they can see her in are stereotypically (and broadly) “Asian.” At the same time, her strict father sees no pride in being an actor, and instead wants his eldest daughter to further her education and marry a nice Chinese boy. Jade just wants the freedom to play anyone and to be herself.
With Double Happiness Shum gained the distinction of being the first Chinese-Canadian woman to direct a wide release feature film, and the film was well awarded at festivals and the Genies, including Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for Oh. Oh’s Jade is nuanced, from the beautifully lit rehearsals in her bedroom that show us just how dynamic an actress Jade could be if given the chance, to her monologues to herself about her internal struggles in all aspects of her life. Jade’s catharsis on screen (and presumably Shum’s through the making of the film) is still relatable and highly watchable today.