Family ghosts, generational conflict, and the immigrant experience frame this episodic comedy-drama about a Chinese-born Canadian woman's quest for self-definition, which marked the debut of writer/director Mina Shum.
Jade Li (Sandra Oh), an aspiring actress in her early twenties, lives at home with her strict father (Stephen Chang), her dutiful mother (Alannah Ong), and her sweet younger sister, Pearl (Frances You). Their older brother, Winston, has been disowned -- a fate Jade is not eager to share, both for her own sake and to spare her family pain.
Therefore, although she manages to land a few bit parts on camera, Jade spends most of her time working in the shop owned by a family friend, performing the duties of a respectful daughter and suffering through arranged dates with prosperous young Chinese men.
An adept cultural chameleon, though, she also leads a double life, hanging out with best friend Lisa (Claudette Carracedo) and beginning a tentative romance with Caucasian college student Mark (Callum Keith Rennie).
When her father's childhood friend arrives for a visit, however, Jade must juggle her competing identities even more carefully than usual, lest her choice of professions -- and boyfriends -- shame her father.
After premiering at the 1994 Toronto International Film Festival, Double Happiness won several international awards and made its U.S. bow at Sundance in 1995. Writer/director Shum -- who, like her protagonist, was born in Hong Kong but raised in Canada -- appears briefly on camera as a casting director who doesn't think Jade is Chinese enough.
Oh, who is actually of Korean descent, won a best actress Genie Award (the Canadian equivalent of an Oscar) for her portrayal of Jade. The part of Dad Li marked a departure for Chang, a frequent martial arts movie villain and real-life friend of Bruce Lee.