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  • Writer's pictureLoren Javier

LOOK BACK: The Joy Luck Club at 25

Photo: Touchstone

While I was on the plane on my way to Disneyland Paris for Disney FanDaze, I saw that The Joy Luck Club was available to watch. It's one of my favorite films, but I had not watched it in awhile. So, it was a treat to see it again. I actually watched it 3 times during my flights back and forth. LOL! Why am I talking about The Joy Luck Club on a Disney blog? Well, the film was produced through Disney's Hollywood Pictures and distributed through Buena Vista Pictures (now Walt Disney Motion Pictures).

I know that a lot of people criticize the way in which Asian and Asian American men are portrayed, but, to me, the movie and the book its based on is not about men. Its about women. Its about mothers and daughters. Its about the cultural and generational gap. Its about hopes and expectations. I simply love it and I think of the book as an American classic. Its definitely a seminal work in Asian American literature. And, when we look at the movie, it was the first time mainstream Hollywood produced a film featuring people of Asian descent in the lead roles.

Photo: Touchstone

For those unfamiliar with the film (and book), it follows four sets of mothers and daughters - Waverly Jong (Tamlyn Tomita) and her mother Lindo, Lena St. Clair (Lauren Tom) and her mother Ying-Ying (France Nuyen), Rose Hsu (Rosalind Chao) and her mother An-Mei (Lisa Lu) and June Soo (Ming-Na Wen) and her mother Suyuan (Kieu Chinh). Their stories are woven together as June prepares to go to China to reunite with the daughters her late mother thought she had lost during the war.

I call this movie my therapy movie because I literally have had the same conversation about best quality crab that June had with her mother. For those who have not seen the film, there is a dinner with friends where Waverly, June's constant friendly nemesis throughout her life, insults June and Suyuan takes Waverly's side. After dinner, June is upset and tells her mother that she feels she can never do anything to please her and that she can't see her. Suyuan gives her a necklace and tells her she does not expect, but hope. She tells her that she saw that June was the only one to take the worst quality crab because she has best quality heart. Cue the weeping!!!!!

Photo: Touchstone

I'm not Chinese American, so I don't relate specifically to the culture, but I do understand a cultural gap. I know my mom brought her own hopes to the United States for her children. My mom might not have been the victim of a matchmaker, but, she did live where she rode water buffalo and used leaves as toilet paper. If you knew my mom, you could never picture her ever doing any of these things. Their house was burned down by the Japanese during World War II and they looked for my grandfather to try to give him water during the Bataan Death March. So, my mom came from a much different life than she did when she moved here and she always strove (and continues to strive) that her children want for not. But, the hopes start feeling like expectations and that's where the cultural and generational clash comes from.

And, like Suyuan and Lindo would do with June and Waverly, my mom always pitted me against my cousin. For years, I hated her guts because I could never be like her. Thankfully, we've grown past that. But I remember those days well.

 Funny story. I was watching this film in the theater and I was sitting next to this family. The best quality crab scene came on and I was reduced to a puddle of tears (as I do every time I see this film). The mother asked her son if he was crying. He responded by saying, "No, it's the big Asian guy next to me." LOL! And, even to this day, some of my friends refer to me as B.A.G.

I really was so sad that this film was not acknowledged by either the Academy or the Foreign Press Association for an Oscar or Golden Globe respectively. There really hasn't been another major motion picture exploring the Asian American experience like this since. Given we're seeing more and more television shows featuring Asian American families such as Fresh Off The Boat and Andi Mack, hopefully we'll see another movie like The Joy Luck Club again.

Fun facts: All the actresses who play daughters have some kind of Disney connection:

  • Rosalind Chao's family used to run a pancake restaurant across the street from Disneyland called Chao's and she, herself, worked at Disneyland as a tour guide. 

  • Tamlyn Tomita stars in the ABC drama The Good Doctor

  • Lauren Tom plays Celia Mack on the Disney Channel's Andi Mack and was the voice of Yoshiko on Kim Possible

  • Ming-Na Wen should be a Disney Legend as she is the voice of Mulan and plays Agent Melinda May on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on AB

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