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.