Double Happiness Film Review

★★★★

Directed by: #ScarlettLi

Written by: #ScarlettLi

Starring: #ZiqianGong #WeidongZhang #QiYu #ZonghuangZhang #SufangJiao

Film Review by: Huw Buckley


Scarlett Li’s Double Happiness is a witheringly funny short film, a humorous rebuttal of conservative familial structure and outmoded traditions. It will be screened - or, rather, streamed - as part of the BFI Future Film Festival (18-21 February 2021) and has been nominated in the Best Film category. This has been a long time coming given that it was shot back in 2019, on location in Shenzen, China , and the director has since moved to the US, releasing another film in the interim called Persimmon Night (2020) (which is available on YouTube). That film is darkly funny and, if Double Happiness is anything to go by, one can presume that this will be a recurring theme throughout what promises to be a daring and inventive career in the film industry.


Daring because Li simply refuses to do things by the book. This is abundantly clear from the start as the opening shot, of this supposed comedy, ostensibly captures an arranged marriage between a worryingly youthful couple. More harrowing than strictly comedic, most would argue. Li invites her audience to take a leap of faith and if you go with it, everything soon becomes clear. All is not as it first seems.


An efficient montage kicks into gear and paints an amusing picture of wedding-day monotony with the, erm, youthful couple subjected to a multitude of tiresome rituals (the bride-to-be literally yawns at one point). Li elicits some excellent performances from the cast and the young actors are no exception, with their brilliantly passive facial expressions perfectly encapsulating the mood of the day. Parents on either side of the aisle, meanwhile, greet guests with gusto, impart sage advice to the youths on issues of decorum, and just generally assert dominance over proceedings.


However, after the ceremony is completed, the film’s central contrivance is revealed as the Bride’s mother breaks down and, after a quick cutaway, finds herself suddenly transformed into a vulnerable, weeping child. The parents, Li suggests, are just as clueless, just as scared, just as anxious as their children. One-by-one the parents fall foul of this metaphorical transformation, and with each transfiguration we are given an increasingly raw insight into the flawed human beings that cower behind the façade. They have regrets, they feel inadequate, and they fear failure, just like everybody else does.


Li relies on two things to make the film funny: the absurdity of witnessing the youthful incarnations of the parents suffering from an existential crisis; and the amusing yet comforting acknowledgement that most people are likely to project confidence rather than truly possess it. Li seems to be suggesting that we rely on tradition and structure as a kind of coping mechanism. Nobody really has everything figured out, the film tells us, so by grounding ourselves in rigid propriety, via artificial constructs such as wedding-day rituals, we can regain some semblance of control in our lives. Highly astute and quite hilarious.


The film is beautifully shot, and Li seems capable of producing some seriously impressive camerawork - particularly spectacular given the production’s small budget. Meanwhile, a minimalist yet highly affecting score - reminiscent of that in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) - gently accompanies the audience through the breezy ten-minute run-time. The writing is intelligent and effective, with each parent’s emotional breakdown suitably melodramatic; the film is sure to guarantee laughs. And the film ends on an uplifting note, beautifully bittersweet, and sure to assuage concerns likely held by viewers at the film’s start. This is a very promising short from an exciting talent.