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Monday, March 21, 2011

The Ties that Bind in "The Joy Luck Club"

"June, since your baby time, I wear this next to my heart. Now, you wear next to yours. It will help you know. I see you. I see you."
Many women are taught to endure the most but never show it, be ladylike but possess an inner strength at the same time. In the film adaptation of Amy Tan's bestselling novel The Joy Luck Club, four heartbreaking stories are narrated by a pact of women from China called The Joy Luck Club. Their stories involve years of self-deprecation and disappointment, honor and commitment. A commitment to honor their mothers and a commitment to honor themselves as women, and as Chinese women especially. Their stories are further illustrated by their daughters, whose own lives prove that their long ancestry of stifling their true feelings had entered the new generation of women. But in The Joy Luck Club, each mother is finally able to forgive herself for her own past to then be able to share it with her daughter and allow a connection to form between them. That connection would give each of them the voice they hid for too long, and the power to move on.

Take for instance Suyuan (Kieu Chinh), who founded the sisterhood of The Joy Luck Club in World War II along with Lindo Jong, An-Mei and Ying-Ying. While trying to escape the Japanese invasion, Suyuan reluctantly leaves her twin babies under a tree when she felt she could not care for them any longer. She hoped someone with a kind heart would take them in. To her surprise and despair, she ended up surviving the war, remarrying, moving to America and giving birth to another daughter, Jing-Mei 'June' (Ming-Na). But the cries of her two older daughters haunted her until the day she died. She complemented the sadness she felt for her long-lost children with a severe hope and ambition for Jing-Mei, a hope that she would become the woman she felt she wasn't able to be.

Ambition and desire is a constant theme throughout each of the woman's stories. They each had their own and even more so for their daughters, who often felt pressured to be the best and compete with one another. In a particularly compelling scene in the movie, Jing-Mei finally connects with her mother in a way she never could before, after a dinner confrontation between Jing-Mei and Waverly, Lindo's daughter.

Lindo's (Tsai Chin) story is a little less demure. As a teen, she was arranged to marry a young man she didn't know and bear his child in China. But she soon learns that young Huang Tyan-yu is not interested in her at all and her mistreatment sheltered in his family home is all for not. She develops a clever scheme to escape. Her keen survivor skills and persistence to rise above were key qualities she passed along to Waverly (Tamlyn Tomita), arguably the most fabulous of the younger women. But she too suffered from feeling like she could never please her mother, even with her boyfriends.

An-Mei's (Lisa Lu) story began when her mother, a recent widow, was sent away by her parents after she becomes pregnant by a married man Wu-Tsing (Tian-Ming Wu, who also has other children). An-Mei reconnected with her mother as a teen and begged to live with her, in the only home she could find--that of Wu-Tsing and his family--which had its own unfortunate conditions. While living with there An-Mei discovers that her mother's soul had long disappeared after years of torment, and that she hoped An-Mei could eventually have the life she was never was allowed. After that experience, An-Mei always hoped for her daughter Rose (Rosalind Chao) would always know her own worth. But Rose always sought perfection but was crushed whenever it didn't come into fruition. Like her marriage to Ted (Andrew McCarthy), not everything was able to be controlled, but she later finds a way to finally make her voice count.

And finally there's Ying-Ying (France Nuyen), who married the dashing Lin Xiao (Russell Wong) because she believed him to someone with whom she was destined. But his playboy ways reared their ugly head and smashed every dream Ying-Ying had for a happy family. With mistresses streaming in and out of their home--and their bed--Ying-Ying becomes almost paralyzed with sadness. She eventually moves on to America, into a new marriage, and gives birth to daughter Lena (Lauren Tom). But memories of her life before stay with her. So when she notices Lena has adopted some of her submissive qualities, she quickly intervenes by sharing her own story. Only then does Lena understand how she became who she was, and how she can mend her own situation.

Director Wayne Wang made a career out of supporting several female-driven projects including Maid in Manhattan, Anywhere But Here and Last Holiday. His sensitivity to film and to his actor is not only commendable but beautiful to watch. The masterful storytelling of the eight women in The Joy Luck Club, illuminated by each actress's elegant portrayal, make the film as resonating today as it did when it first hit theaters nearly eighteen years ago.


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