Scarlett Li
Double Happiness

Double Happiness screens as part of the BFI Future Film Festival from 18-21 February, free on BFI Player

  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Email

It's a day of celebration. In this traditional Chinese wedding, the marrying couple are worn out with the parents' different agendas and a series of wedding rituals. The ensemble of absurdity reaches its climax when the mother of the bride bursts out crying on stage and turns into a little girl. One after another, the parents all collapse into their children's form. Can the couple survive the madness?

Hi, Scarlett thank you for talking to TNC, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?

Hi, thanks for asking! I’ve had some ups and downs like many of us, but I’m good and thriving now. 

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?

Yes, very much. Since we have all the time for daydreaming. I’ve read a lot and been writing.

I’m working on a feature script currently and prepping for a commercial shoot in March.

Congratulations on having Double Happiness selected for the BFI Future Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of the In Their Shoes section?

Thank you! When I was looking at all the sections of the BFI Future Film Festival, I immediately knew that Double Happiness would be part of In Their Shoes. There will be many shoes in Double Happiness since it’s a wedding. I’m thrilled to be in the line-up and looking forward to seeing all the films by fellow young filmmakers.

Can you tell me a little bit about Double Happiness, how did this film come about?

Double Happiness is a “coming-of-age” wedding drama. It takes us to the wedding of a Chinese couple whose parents collapse into their most childish selves, turning a self-important ritual into a chaotic fantasy.

Weddings have always been societies in microcosm. Initially, I was interested in how young couples navigate the close bond of Chinese families and how romance lives with a marriage market corrupted by money and power. Then I thought, wouldn’t a wedding be a perfect setting for everything to happen?

Under Confucianism, marriage was the result of “parents’ commands and a matchmaker’s word.” Today’s young marry freely. But weddings are still somehow the domain of parents, not the couple. They are displays of the families’ power, status, and connections to capital (red envelopes). For some, they are about showing off. They seem modern in one way, but also relics of a bygone era in China, blended with the Western bridal veils that came with colonialism.

So I’d say the main character of Double Happiness is not the parents, nor the couple, but the ritual of the wedding itself. In the film, we will see what the ritual does to everyone, who are nothing but ordinary people.

"And in high school, when everyone starts considering what they are going to be in the future, I thought, wow, maybe I will make films."

What were the biggest challenges you faced bringing this film to life?

Double Happiness was my first time making a film in China. We shot the film in my hometown Shenzhen. However familiar I was with the city, I haven’t really lived there since I was 17.

In the US, we make films with our film school classmates. There, I had to work with a group of people I hadn’t know before. Luckily, I was blessed with the most amazing crew I could ever hope for. Many of them are film students at the Hong Kong Baptist University, including my local producer who was also my high school classmate. All the students are women and make up half of my crew, which is not the commonest thing in China. My local crew is the warmest, the most supporting, professional team who made Double Happiness possible and I’m beyond grateful to be able to take their brilliance and sincerity to the UK.

Looking back is there anything you would have done differently on this film?

Just about a million things I’d have done differently, considering I’m a slightly different (post-2020) version of myself now. Now, I wouldn’t make the same film even though I’d use the same idea. But I regret nothing and cherish Double Happiness as the film I made at that time of my life.

What has been the most valuable lesson you have taken away from making Double Happiness?

Writing is everything. I wrote many drafts for Double Happiness but still, I feel a lot more time needs to be spent on the script.

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?

My passion for filmmaking came early in the form of reading and writing. I didn’t really feel much about film until my mum started Friday old movie night when I was in middle school. And in high school, when everyone starts considering what they are going to be in the future, I thought, wow, maybe I will make films.

"I’m also on that journey and waiting for whatever may come."

What has been some of the best advice you’ve been given?

One of my directing professors at NYU once asked us. How would you feel if you are walking alone in the dark woods? Scared (or petrified, like I’d probably be). What if you are walking in the dark woods with a little kid? You may still be fearful. But you will hold her hand and tell her, don’t be afraid. That little kid is your film, and you will always hold her hand. This is one of the most beautiful pieces of advice I’ve been given, and I think about it all the time.

Should filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?

If one embraces their real voice and makes the world hear it, she is already pushing the boundaries. So, absolutely. However, for me, it’s better to concentrate on what’s in front of me and what’s inside of me, than getting ahead of myself.

Do you have any tips or advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?

Be honest and find your voice. Surrender your journey to your works. And don’t conform. I’m also on that journey and waiting for whatever may come.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Double Happiness?

I’m very curious to know how the audience feels and what they make of it. Whatever they take away is valid. I hope the audience enjoys the ride, and maybe wonders for a few seconds before they go to sleep. Why did this happen? Why did that happen? Then I’d be happy.

© 2021 The New Current