Mindy Ho, an eccentric, strong-minded 12-year-old, stages Taoist magical experiments to save her harried single mother from financial and romantic ruin. Her misdirected charms appear to cause an aging security guard to lose his job and a local butcher to win the lottery, ultimately forcing each man to face his worst fears. Whether it's through Mindy's spells, her monumental sense of purpose--or it's that life's mysterious logic is at work--her mother's drab existence is enlivened. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
LONG LIFE, HAPPINESS AND PROSPERITY shares some qualities with some of its north of the border Reel 13 Canadian Indie counterparts. It is a slice of life multi-protagonist piece akin to the awful, but highly-rated WILBY WONDERFUL with the misguided mystical elements that were woven throughout A PROBLEM WITH FEAR. LLHP does a much better job in developing its characters than WILBY did and the mysticism in question is based on ancient Chinese culture and therefore, somehow seems less contrived and more elegant than the inexplicable technology-based type from FEAR.
So, the script, on the whole, is decent. While there are several comedic moments that fall flat, there are many others that are genuinely funny in almost a Shakespearean way (one character's rendition of "Sometimes When We Touch" remains my fave). There are some structural deficiencies (neighbors' gossip as a form of exposition is never a good move), screenwriters Mina Shum and Dennis Foon paint their characters honestly and not a one of the three story lines seems to be favored over the others. Unfortunately, the performances in the film don't help to elevate the script in any way.
In the blog for WILBY WONDERFUL, I alluded to my general distaste for Sandra Oh's work. In LONG LIFE, HAPPINESS AND PROSPERITY, however, she towers over the other actors in the film, but that's not saying much. Almost every other actor (the main kid Mindy is okay appropriately precocious) in the piece seems new to film acting. They all seem extremely uncomfortable, delivering their lines as if they didn't really believe them. While Oh is significantly stronger than the rest of the cast, she's not fabulous either. She has several good comic moments and a few good serious ones, but she really pushes during the very emotional moments and that's never fun to watch.
There is plenty of charm in LONG LIFE, HAPPINESS AND PROSPERITY, enough that I found myself wanting to like it more than I ultimately did. Overall, the premise of the film that a little girl playing with ancient Chinese charms changes the fortunes of all the people around her is a little hard to buy, but it's not dissimilar to the kind of farce you might find in more classical fare like Moliere or even ancient Greek comedies. At the end of the day, however, the performances sunk this ship. If you can't believe the characters whose story you're watching, it makes for a pretty rough journey. All the charm(s) in the world can't save you there.
(Find out more about this film or other Reel 13 films on www.reel13.org)
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