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The Joy Luck Club

Adapted from the best-selling novel in 1989 by Amy TanThe Joy Luck Club (1993) is a heart-tugging movie directed by Hollywood Director Wayne Wang that sets out to help people see the struggles between four young American friends and their Chinese mothers.

“This feather may seem worthless but this comes from afar, and it carries with it all my good intentions,” this metaphor is used three times during the movie to depict how every mother places all her hopes on her daughter, wishing only the best for her.

As the story unfolds, friends and families gather at The Joy Luck Club for a farewell party. Jing-Mei “June” Woo (Ming-Na) who recently lost her mother, Suyuan Woo (Kieu Chinh) four months ago, is preparing to visit her two half-sisters living in China.

Throughout the movie, flashbacks of the older women’s histories are shown to help the audience understand the hardship they had went through during the time in China before leading a relatively comfortable life in America. On the other hand, the younger women who face troubles with their husbands are often shown as not being able to decide what to do.

From left: Suyuan Woo, June Woo, Waverly Jung, Lindo Jung, Ying-ying St. Clair, Lena St. Clair, An-Mei Hsu, Rose Hsu

Every Girl Has a Story to Tell

At age 15, Lindo Jong (Tsai Chin) is married off to a family without knowing who her husband is. The first time Lindo got to see her husband was during their wedding night, something that many young girls went through during the early days in China.

Almost everyday, Lindo is constantly reminded to produce a grandson for the husband’s family. With a husband 5 years younger than her, Lindo treats him like a younger brother instead.

After freeing herself from her arranged marriage and her brutal mother-in-law, Lindo uses the life skills she learnt to nurture her daughter’s skill at chess, making Waverly (Tamlyn Tomita) a chess champion. However, Waverly soon becomes embarrassed of her mother using her talent to show off. From then on, Waverly never touched chess again.

Despite Waverly marrying a Chinese and having a granddaughter, her mother was never happy. Even during the time when Waverly was dating a Caucasian, nothing seemed to be able to please Lindo. However, as the film progresses, Waverly realises that her mother favors Rich (Christopher Rich) after all, and that she is the one with the skepticism about her mother all along.

Growing Up at the Expense of Young Innocence

Ying-ying St. Clair (France Nuyen) is a woman who often seems to be in her own world of thoughts, her eyes carrying the fear from her dark history. Her daughter, Lena (Lauren Tom), who constantly tries to care for her mother, can never understand what lies behind the blank stare of Ying-ying.

At a tender age of 16, Ying-ying falls in love with a family friend and eventually marries the man. Taking away her innocence and youth, Ying-ying has to witness her husband committing adultery, to the extent of bringing women home. While bathing her son, Ying-ying becomes lost in thoughts and by the time reality seeps in, her son has already drowned in the bathtub.

After remarrying in America, Ying-ying who has placed all her hopes in her previous child, does not have any expectations for her daughter, Lena, resulting in the latter not being initiative enough to end an unhappy marriage. Realising that her daughter’s happiness is at stake, Ying-ying encourages Lena to step up and settle what needs to be settled in her marriage.

Know What You Are Worth

Since the age of 4, An-Mei Hsu (Lisa Lu) has been living with her grandparents after her mother was thrown out of the household. An-Mei’s mother became a concubine of a rich man when in actual fact she was raped. Having nowhere to go, An-Mei’s mother has no choice but to marry the man who raped her in order to save the child in her womb.

As soon as the child is born, An-Mei’s mother is forced to leave her son, having the second wife to claim the child and making her the fourth wife instead.

Seeing her mother in her own daughter, An-Mei urges Rose (Rosalind Chao) to know what she is worth if she wants to go through a divorce with her husband, Ted (Andrew McCarthy). The enlightened Rose soon becomes assertive and demands for the ownership of the house that she and Ted live in.

Puzzle Pieces Solved

As the scene flashes back to the day at the farewell party, June reflects back during the time when her mother was still alive. She often thinks that her mother’s criticisms and strictness are a lack of love, when in actual fact, this is how her mother shows her love for the daughter.

The missing puzzle pieces of Suyuan’s history in China are placed together with the help from Lindo, An-Mei and Ying-ying. After knowing the truth from Auntie Lindo that she has written the letter to the twin sisters in China on behalf of Suyuan, June sets off for China to break the news of their mother’s death to the twin sisters, at the same time fulfilling the wish of her late mother.

The final scene in the movie shows a powerful and emotional scene where the three sisters finally meet face-to-face, hugging each other fiercely just as when the credits start to roll.

Wang manages to capture essence of each scene, carefully displaying the cultural differences and struggles between the mothers and daughters, having the older generation being brought up in the Chinese way while the daughters are very much like the Americans. Even so, the movie shows how the mothers finally express their worries and love for their daughters, resulting in a stronger bond between each pair.

Each actress is given enough screen time to showcase the strong emotions and feelings of the character, something that Wang thinks it is the most important thing for an actor to do so – don’t act; feel your character. The actresses pulled it off so well that you truly can relate yourself to the characters in the movie.

UrbanWire gives The Joy Luck Club 4.0 out of 5.0 stars

Movie details

Release date: Oct 9 (GV)
Language: English
Rating: NC 16
Genre: Drama, Romance
Starring: Kieu Chinh, Tsai Chin, France Nuyen, Lisa Lu, Ming-Na
Directed by: Wayne Wang



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