The movie I selected is “The Joy Luck Club” that illustrates the gap and the misunderstanding between foreign-born mothers from China and their American-born daughters who are ignorant of their culture, life, morals, and ways. Jing-mei, the main character in the film, has taken her mother, Suyuan’s place playing mahjong in a weekly gathering that her deceased mother had organized in China and revived in San Francisco- The Joy Luck Club. The club’s other members- auntie Lindo, Ying-ying, and An-mei are three of her mother’s oldest friends and fellow immigrants. The movie, which was filmed after the success of the book by Amy Tan, alternates viewpoints from each set of mother-daughter’s story, in which each recalls the relationship with their own mothers. Following that, the daughters- Waverly, Jing-mei, Lena, and Rose, relate their recollections of their childhood relationships with their mothers. As they grow up, they narrate the troubles in their marriages and careers. The daughters’ search for solutions inevitably brings them back to their relationships with the older generation.
Once I went over the movie list on the guideline, I instantly knew that I was going to choose this movie as the name popped up. The Joy Luck Club has always been one of my favorite books in my teenage years. I was first introduced to the book version by my English tutor in 7th grade, and found it fascinating as it reflects the similarity the movie has between my family and myself. My family emigrated from Taiwan to the U.S. when I was 9-years-old, so that partly made me an Asian American who can speak a decent amount of Chinese. Grewing up, I was aware of the clash between the two opposing cultures of the East and West as I interacted with friends from the American culture and parents from the Chinese culture. As I read the book, I can strongly relate the stories to my own personal experiences, like acting as “obedient daughter” by playing the piano to make mother proud, and mothers comparing each of their child to others. The book encouraged me to reflect back to my relationship with my own mother, and challenged me to
think about my own identity as a 1.5-generation Asian American.
The first time I watched the movie was after I finished reading the book in 7th grade. At that time, nothing really hit me much, that may be partly because I was not emotionally mature enough to have had enough experience to relate to the stories. So instead, I was just focusing on how the plots in the movie were different from that in the book, what scenes were left out in the movie that were included in the book, how each character’s look is compared to my own imagination…etc. But as I watched it a second time in the past few days, the feelings just progressed so strongly that it turned out irresistible to refrain from tears, especially during the last scene as Jing-mei reunited with her long lost Chinese half-sisters as she returned back to China. I guess, as I am now a young adult now, I can more maturely attach the emotional feelings of the daughters to my own feelings as an Asian American. I now try to treasure the time I get to spend with my mom, and respect, appreciate the every little thing she did for me while I was growing up.
Throughout the movie, there were several scenes perpetuating prejudice and discrimination. Gender role is a big problem that can be easily identified. For example, in China, Lindo was forced to live almost as a servant to her mother-in-law and husband, conforming to idealized roles of feminine submission and duty. Another example is that An-mei’s mother being raped by her father, that she must marry him to preserve her honor; whereas he, as a man, may marry any number of concubines without being judged harshly.
In America, the daughters also encountered the problem of sexism as they grew up. Rose’s passivity with Ted is based on the stereotypical gender roles of a proactive, heroic male and a submissive, victimized female. Lena’s agreement to serve as a mere associate in the architecture firm that she helped her husband to found, as well as her agreement to make only one seventh of his salary, may also be based on sexist ideals that she has absorbed. After watching the movie, I became more aware of the inferior role women play in both Chinese and American culture. Men were undoubtedly in a dominant position socially, economically, and sexually.
Discrimination against ethnicity can also be seen in the Chinese in-group from the daughters’ behaviors. Even though the daughters were genetically Chinese and have been raised in Chinese households, they also identified with and felt at home in modern American culture. Waverly, Rose, and Lena all had white boyfriends and husbands, yet they regarded their mothers’ customs and tastes as old-fashioned and ridiculous. They have also spent most of their childhood escaping their Chinese identity- Lena would walk around the neighborhood with her eyes opened to the widest to make them look European. Jing-mei denied having any internal Chinese aspects and insisted her Chinese identity was limited only to her external features. Waverly would have joyfully clapped her hands if her mother had told her she did not look Chinese. The examples mentioned above depict some of the prejudice the daughters’ formed against their own Chinese ethnicity.
Not only does prejudice comes from the in-group, it comes from the out-groups as well. The most conspicuous example is when Rose’s mother-in-law pulled Rose aside and tried to convince her that Ted was going to work for a big firm, that other people are not as “understandable” as them, at the same time indirectly asking her to leave Ted because she was not “White”. Another example is when Waverly introduced Rich into the family and brought him home for dinner. Lindo’s condescending gaze at Rich when he did not understand the Chinese tradition of eating and criticized her cooking made her being more despiteful of the “Caucasian” Rich. The last example I picked up on is at the very beginning, when Jing-mei was playing mahjong with the three aunties, and auntie Lindo commented on Jing-mei having known to play Jewish mahjong and not familiar with Chinese mahjong. She disdainfully expressed that the two types are entirely different, that Jewish mahjong has no strategy while Chinese mahjong is very tricky. Although just of a subtle hint, I translated it as auntie Lindo’s prejudice towards the Jews.
Alongside from the prejudice and the discriminations, I found several of the old Chinese traditional stereotypes in the movie to be fascinating for me to relate to. The scenes where Jing-mei’s mother was escaping the Japanese war in China with the twin babies made me think back to my grandparents escaping the Communist armies with my baby uncle and aunt and fleeing to Taiwan by a boat. The scenes where auntie Lindo and Jing-mei’s mother was sitting at Jing-mei’s piano recital comparing the accomplishments of their daughters made me relate back to when my mom was constantly telling me the kids in the neighborhood passing the piano exam with higher levels than me, or that my friends scoring a very good score on the SAT, etc. Elements from the Chinese belief system- the twelve animal zodiac, the five elements, reappeared in the aunties’ explanations of their personalities in which I used to talk about to compare personalities with friends.
One last stereotypical resemblance I noticed is the mothers’ sacrifices of love. Many of the mothers make great sacrifices for their children and parents. An-mei’s mother sliced off a piece of her own flesh to put in her mother’s soup, superstitiously hoping to cure her through her obedience. Later, she committed suicide in order to protect An-mei’s future status in Wu-Tsing’s household since she knew he was afraid of ghosts. Jing-mei’s mother also took an extra job cleaning the house in order to earn Jing-mei the opportunity to practice piano. These examples make me think back to my own mother, who decided to let our whole family immigrate to the U.S. in order to avoid my health problem with tympanitis (inflammation of the eardrum) that I caught for a long time since childhood.
To sum it up, The Joy Luck Club is a wonderful movie to watch that explores the conflicts between the two Chinese generations in two different cultures through storytelling and viewpoints. One can definitely learn much about gender role and prejudice through watching this movie by presenting two very different cultures while learning to appreciate the difference.