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The "Joy Luck Club" film is based on Amy Tan's best-selling novel about eight women, including four Chinese immigrant mothers and their American-born daughters, who endure misfortune and hardship. The film incorporates the classic Hollywood motif of diseased moms and their ineligible daughters bridging generations, periods, and cultural boundaries. In the contemporary San Francisco setting of "Joy Luck Club," four authentic late-middle-aged Chinese ladies are featured. Since arriving in America after World War II, they have gathered once a week to play mah-jongg (Chen). The purpose of the weekly meeting was to memorialize the grasp of poverty and hardship and renew their spirit through eating and laughing while telling their best stories to each other.
The movie begins with June (Ming-Na Wen) filling the seat of her currently, deceased mother, Suyuan (Kieu Chinh) in the “Joy Luck Club” and through her we learn about her mother’s struggles from how she left her kids in China and her attempts to build a new life in America. Likewise, all of the women have a story to tell of their past tragedies, and Wang moves promptly and adequately from one narrator to another (Chen). Throughout the movie, Wayne Wang portrays the theme of cultural conflicts, feminism and role conflict that prevails between the mothers and daughters.
The first theme demonstrated in the “Joy Luck Club” is friendship. The four women Illustrate the importance friendship by showing that the key factor is loyalty. Regardless of competition, misunderstandings and the hard turns that prevail among them, the four help each other through their difficult times and help share and fulfill their dreams and desire (Chen). For instance, we see the three women assisting and directing June in taking over her mother’s role in the “Joy Luck Club” and seeing her through her journey to meet with her half-sisters.
In the course of the movie, the various narrators reflect on the challenges they encounter when translating concepts and convictions from one culture to another. The abridged cultural understanding of both the mothers and daughters is indebted to their deficient familiarity with the language. The mothers and daughters having been raised in a different cultural context and style, they are faced with communication barriers that led to faint misunderstandings. June, for instance, illustrates the challenges of translation when she attempts to narrate the story of her mother’s establishing the “Joy Luck Club” (Li-xia). She realizes that the concepts behind the originating of the club are not easy to translate.
June demonstrates role conflicts when she is subject to a new responsibility that involved a culture that she is not familiar. She realizes that she knows so little about her mother and the Chinese culture and doubts whether she has the zeal to fulfill her mother’s wish of reuniting her daughters. She further mentions of a conflict that exists between the mothers and daughters whereby the mothers are hasty with their daughters for being reluctant in understanding the Chinese culture while the daughters undermine their mothers for their crumbled English. Characters mention various Chinese concepts throughout the movie, only to be faced with the fact that a perception of Chinese culture is an imperative to understand its meaning.
The “Joy Luck Club” movie is based on the theme of visions of America whereby the mothers have both positive and negative perceptions of America. In most part, they credit America for its feminism nature whereby their daughters get the opportunity of living the American dream of being anything they desire, and all it required is determination. However, the mothers think little of the “American Character” that they perceive of being dishonest, ungracious and lacks self-respect. Wang demonstrates this theme by Lindo’s desire for her daughter to acquire the “American circumstances and Chinese character” (Li-xia).Lindo’s desire is a general representation of what all women want for their daughters, “to gain from the American freedom and not be American” (Li-xia).
The mothers demonstrate culture shock whereby they are conflicted with how distinct the American character is from the Chinese culture. Throughout the movie, the mothers and daughters undergo through anticipatory socialization whereby they are needed to accept the American and Chinese cultures respectively for the sake of improving their relationships (Li-xia). They live in fear that their daughters may end up living as Americana which would undermine their desires to spread their Chinese legacy from generation to generation.
Wayne Wang applies the theme of storytelling that aimed at curbing the communication barriers between the mothers and daughters (Chen). The stories the mothers tell their daughters are mostly meant to educate, warn and advise them on various past successes and mistakes. For instance, Ying-Ying narrates her past to her daughter Lena with the aim of urging her against stoicism and determinism that Ying-Ying endured (Chen). Further, storytelling is used to convey messages of love and pride as well as irradiate one’s innermost self for others. The author uses narration to ensure that the historical legacy of the mothers is passed on to generations and to install and instill the significance of the Chinese culture to their daughters. For instance, Suyuan hoped that she could reach to her long-lost daughters and tell them of her undying love despite her illusive abandonment of them. Although she didn’t make to meet her daughters by herself, June fulfills her mother’s wish by taking the responsibility of meeting her half-sisters and enlightening them of who their mother was and her legacy (Chen).
Further, the “Joy Luck Club” illustrates the theme of women and femininity. The mothers explained that they moved to America partly to provide their daughters with better lives away from the strict Chinese culture that perceived women as hardworking and subjective creatures who never complained and disguised their happiness (Li-xia).On the other hand, America is more liberating and greatly supports femininity where women’s worth matters. In America, the worthiness of their daughters is based on their educational success and not based on the “loudness of their husband’s belch” (Li-xia).
In the course of the movie, Wang applies the theme of identity whereby the daughters are conflicted with their cultural identity, being brought up in America but born by native Chinese parents. For instance, Suyuan perception of being Chinese is that it’s in one’s genetic makeup, that it’s a part of her daughter’s identity that she cannot escape (Chen). Culture identity brings in the idea of cultural relativism in the sense that according to China, a character was based on one’s family social status while in America, identity can change with customs. The movie asserts that there’s no such thing as a pure culture identity and all that matters is to respect one’s cultural relativity. Throughout the film, we see June being faced with culture shock from the moment she replaces the deceased mother in the club. June realizes that she knows so little about her dead mother and her Chinese culture and is conflicted on whether her visit to China to meet her half-sisters will accelerate the culture shock.
Chen, Yongjiang. "From alienation to connection: the theme of alienation analyzed from a socialist feminist perspective in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club." (2014).
Li-xia, Y. A. N. "Chinese and Western Face Views Reflected in The Joy Luck Club." Journal of Fuyang Teachers College (Social Science Edition) 3 (2013): 032
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