The APAHM Project Day 10: The Joy Luck Club
Film: The Joy Luck Club
Director: Wayne Wang
Where to watch: Rent or Buy from all major platforms (might I add I’m very disappointed none of the streaming services were able to put this on their APAHM section)
Why it made the list:
“The Joy Luck Club” is known for being the only American film that feature an all-Asian cast until 2018’s “Crazy Rich Asians” (although when news articles made this statement, they forgot about the 1961 film “Flower Drum Song”). The film is both a modern and period piece, that, as June narrates in the mah jong scene, has more to do with hope than joy or luck. This movie is a sad one on the surface, but perhaps the reason why it is so sad is because we know it to be true.
Since today is Mother’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to watch a movie that focuses on mothers and daughters. I remember watching this with my own mom and sister on DVD about 15 years ago and not really understanding it at all. After rewatching it in 2018, I enjoyed it, recognized it, and felt I didn’t really relate to it as much, focusing mainly on the adult women. But upon watching it last night (on a VHS my uncle had in his collection), I related to it much better when focusing on the characters as young girls.
If you’ve never seen “TJLC” it follows four women, who immigrated from China in their young adulthoods, and their four daughters, all born in the states. We learn about all 8 of their stories, each one equally painful, each one struggling with a sense of approval or longing for love.
Let’s begin with the mothers. All of them faced hardships in China: Lindo was married off at 15 to a brat of a boy and separated from her mother. She was verbally harassed by her mother-in-law because she was not pregnant, even though her husband would never lie with her. An-Mei was left to live with her relatives after her mother was disgraced from the family. We later find out that her mother was one of many wives to a man who had sexually assaulted her, and bore a son, who was taken from her by a different wife. To give An-Mei a stronger soul, she commits suicide. Ying-Ying married a handsome, cheating husband who treated her like trash. Distracted by her angry thoughts, she accidentally drowns her son in the bath. Lastly, Suyuan, who has dysentery, tries to escape China with her twin daughters. Unable to continue on, she abandons her daughters so that she can die away from them and her spirit won’t cause them bad luck. She leaves all her possessions and a note with her babies. She is later rescued by someone and ends up in a hospital.
Sounds like a lot, right? That’s because it is. Each of these women did what they thought was best for their daughters to have a better life. Each one carried these burdens they did not want their own daughters to inherit. They wanted to shield them from hardships, and make their lives easier. Immigrating to America, each of these four women had a daughter: June, Waverly, Lena, and Rose.
Each of these daughters seek two things: approval and love. All but June had rough relationships with their husbands (June isn’t married). This especially hurts the mothers, seeing that they all had bad experiences with men in China. Waverly and June both have disdain for their mothers for enrolling them in extracurriculars that their mothers used to one-up each other. Lena‘s mom is concerned about her daughter’s marriage ending up exactly like hers did. And Rose’s mom teaches her daughter about her own self-worth, delivering one of the best lines in the movie in the process “I was raised the Chinese way. I was taught to desire nothing, to swallow other people’s misery, and to eat my own bitterness.” This line could open a whole new conversation, but that’s for another day.
Each daughter has qualms with their mothers. And don’t we all, to an extent. But once they learned about their mother’s past, they understand the root of why their mothers act the way that they do. The mothers want what is best for their daughters, they want them to have better lives than what they had. To have joy, luck, and hope, in the ways that they didn’t.
But the daughters just don’t go on to say “well that’s just how my mother is“ and put up with their mothers’ personalities. The mothers also come to realize how they have affected their daughters and this results in them having better communication and stronger relationships. They too had to realize how they were acting in order to improve their mother-daughter relationships.
In the end, each woman finds love and approval within each other; as friends, mothers, daughters, or aunties. They find this through sharing their experiences, the good and the bad, and having open communication. Really listening to what the other was saying. Asians are stereotyped to not give their children affection in conventional ways, but parents worrying about us and wanting what’s best for us is their way of saying they care. We don’t always agree, and we don’t have to, but we have to learn to accept and respect each others‘ decisions and lifestyles.
Does it deserve to stay on this list:
I’m honestly surprised this movie got no award season love aside from a single BAFTA nomination. The acting, story, and score all are phenomenal. More importantly, this movie is culturally impactful and has a great message of stories that need to be shared. This movie teaches me a lot of things, but none so important than knowing that everyone has a backstory that is integral to our own personal histories. This movie makes you feel something, and that’s more than I can say about half the movies I watch. So after you watch this movie, read this blog, whatever it may be, call your mother and your grandmother and tell them you love them. No matter what your relationship is like with them, open the conversation, understand each other, and hopefully, become closer because of it. Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!