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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity
Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity
Film Movement // Unrated // January 1, 2004
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Robert Spuhler | posted June 1, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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The Movie

Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity is the type of film tailor-made for a company like Film Movement.

The Santa Monica-based Film Movement buys the rights to independent films that show well at festivals or are just overlooked by major distributors. It gives each a full-blown DVD release, with copious extras, bonus short films and all the respect that art-house film releases are not given by the bigger home video companies. It's subscriber base pays a yearly fee to be sent one film a month, and trusts Film Movement enough to pick out the best films available for release.

It is hard to imagine any subscriber to Film Movement being very disappointed in Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity, a low-budget Canadian independent film written and directed by Mina Shum. This is the exact type of film that viewers outside of New York and Los Angeles never get to see: Sensitive, filled with nuance and dramatic without resorting to sex, violence or CGI effects. In short, it's a beautifully scripted, well-performed hidden gem.

Three storylines dominate Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity, all taking place in a largely-Chinese neighborhood in Vancouver:

1) A single mom (Sandra Oh) tries to raise her daughter (Valerie Tian) alone despite financial and romantic difficulty;
2) A handyman nearing retirement (Chang Tseng) is laid off, but can't bring himself to tell his wife; and
3) A butcher wins the lottery, which forces him to confront a long-told lie about his father.

Amazingly, with the number of characters involved and only one (Oh, a series regular on Arliss) being truly "recognizable" for outside work, it is easy to keep everyone's respective roles straight. Not only is that a tribute to the individual actors involved, but also to Shum's writing ability. She has created a full ensemble of believable, three-dimensional characters that are so interesting that each stands out for some reason.

Valerie Tian, despite her young age and inexperience (In the director's commentary, Shum says this was her first time ever on a film set!), is outstanding as Mindy. The relationship between her and Oh is perfect because there are no moments where they try to show the audience that they are daughter and mother. The script tells us that; there is no need for Oh to play the doting mom for a moment and kiss her on the forehead or wipe something off her cheek. That type of storytelling without consciously playing for the audience is much more difficult than it sounds, and Tian and Oh do it well.

Special credit goes to Michael Bjornson, the film's production designer. He creates three separate looks for the three concurrent storylines, finding subtle ways to distinguish between each story while keeping them all rooted in the same small part of Vancouver.

The DVD

Video:

The three storylines are presented with different color emphasis; the mother and daughter are bathed in red, the handyman is in blue and the butcher in gold. The Film Movement DVD presentation preserves those colors beautifully and sharply enough that the difference is clear. It's a very good-looking transfer.

Sound:

Two different audio tracks are provided, a 5.1 and a 2.0. The 5.1 is solid, even if the back speakers are underutilized. The best moments for surround sound involve the film's scenes with trains, where they sound like they're moving across the back of the room. The dialogue volume is a little low at moments which, combined with the sometimes-heavily accented English, makes some lines tough to make out.

Extras:

The full-length director's commentary track is insightful, if dry at times. Shum points out not only what she did and where, but "happy accidents" in the filming, such as trains running through the background of a scene. She also explains some of the more static shots in the film; she loves to let actors take the center stage, so she let them take over in several scenes where the performances stood out.

There are short biographies for some of the key players, as well, along with a short film (which plays more like a long-form advertisement for co-sponsor DKNY) called "Friday Night Fever." The short is non-anamorphic and the subtitles are burnt into the picture.

Trailers are also included for four films from the first year of The Film Movement's subscription series: Morlang, The Party's Over, Manito and OT: Our Town .

Final Thoughts:

Beautifully shot and wonderfully played, Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity rewards viewers with three interesting, intricately interwoven storylines featuring well-developed characters and honest fears and motivations. It is certainly worth seeking out from Film Movement.

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