The Sacramento Bee from Sacramento, California on September 24, 1993 · 125
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The Sacramento Bee from Sacramento, California · 125

Sacramento, California
Issue Date:
Friday, September 24, 1993
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THE SACRAMENTO BEE BINAL W Spplgmhpr ?4 1 993' TICKET IT ' KCOiViERI v7 1 to “Astf 'Joy Luck Club' Amy Tan's nouel of Chinese family ties makes tfitfid translation to film Pmt 4 iy Joe Baltoke Bee Movie Critic ""3 he deceptively serene members of ‘The Joy U Luck C 1 ub” are fou r rMan-born women who sur- ived the unbelievable mostly sexist hardships of an incredi-Bily male-dominated pre-Com-munist China circa 1949 Each one emigrated to Ameri-i a and each raised a daughter affluently and rather schizo-phremcally in San Francisco becoming close friends along the way and forming a weekly mah-jongg group called the Joy Luck Club The older women it turns out are victimizers as well as ictims having pulled their daughters this way and that way expecting them to revere t tie old traditions while grasp-ng the opportunities offered by the New World These amazingly strong-willed women expected their children to be independent modern women something they could never flie in China) and obedient aughters This basic contradiction - a 'pure clash of cultures - when added to your basic generation gap has had a near-strangulat-ing hold on the younger women all of whom are now in their early 30s The individual stored presentments of all the women fboth young and old and the refusal of one to empathize ith The other have produced layers ’of misunderstandings and hurt feelings I This is Young chess prodigy Vu Mai lefrj will let nothing stand in her including her mother Tsai Chin This is the unifying theme of ‘The Joy Luck Club” which 1 is essentially a series of 16 Short stories - that’s right 16 - that give us glimpses into the lives of all eight women past and present (played by an assortment of actresses representing the women as children teenagers young women and older women) It’s a complicated setup the' joretically unmanageable for fa standard two-hour film But fin adapting Amy Tan’s 1989 best seller filmmaker Wayne Wang has simplified it by using J the flashback format in a very I sophisticated way: The film is literally all flashbacks Wang navigates this film the way Robert Altman would and yet ‘ it still has a delicate miniature quality about it Each stojy ‘ each reminiscence of a member of the Joy Luck Club leads to5 a flashback which often flows I ' into the flashback of another character We get flashbacks within flashbacks as mothers and daughters remember their pasts and try to reconcile them with their futures The central character is June (Ming-Na Wen) the daughter of Suyuan (pre-eminent Vietnamese actress Kieu Chinh) a Joy Luck Club member who recently died One of the revelations that June discovers about her mother is that Suyuan not only had another life in China but another family as well -twin baby daughters she was forced to abandoned “Sophie’s Choice”-style before coming to America Suyuan’s bossy hold on her daughter her insistence on living through June ‘ (and her piano-playing) is not uncommon but given Suyuan’s past it’s easy to see why she doted so much on her daughter In the opening scene June is recruited by her “aunties” to take her mother’s place at a Joy Luck game and it is here that we meet the other women and the film digresses into their lives and the lives of their v- 1 i 3 h' tKowmwtmm c The Joy Luck Club V 2 Cast: Rosalind Chao Lauren Tom Tamlyn Tomita Ming-Na Wen France Nuyen Lisa Lu Tsai Chin and Kieu Chinh Director Wayne Wang Writers: Amy Tan and Ron Bass Distributor Hollywood Pictures Running time: 125 minutes Capital Tower (two saeeas) Rated R daughters There’s the redoubtable Auntie Lindo (Tsai Chin in a filmstealing performance that has Oscar written all over it) who was sold as a concubine as a girl and her throughly Western daughter Waverly (Tamlyn Tomita) who is as wily and strong-willed as her mother They are too much alike Waverly was groomed to be a chess champion at age 8 by her mother and now she defies Lindo by giving up chess and having an affair with a Caucasian (Christopher Rich) Lindo disapproves “She’d rather have rectal cancer” Waverly tells her lover Auntie Ying Ying (France Nuyen the ingenue of “South Pacific” of long ago) married well but the guy turned out to be an awful cad (Russell Wong) and Ying Ying became mentally scarred after the tragic death of her infant son Her daughter Lena (Lauren Tom) has coped with her mother’s illness turning into a dishrag condescended to by a chauvinistic husband (Michael Paul Chan) (The exquisite Nuyen incidentally is like a modern Lady Macbeth here) Finally there’s An Mei (Lisa Lu) who saw her own mother (Vivien Wu) become a widow at a young age and then the lowly fourth wife of a powerful businessman who raped her She bore him a son who was claimed by his second wife Later in life An Mei would see her own daughter Rose (Rosalind Chao a powerhouse actress) become a subservient inade- t f r f VratAlt? 4 k $ jii) i H i i quate woman just like An Mei’s mother kowtowing to a prosperous white husband (Andrew McCarthy) In this observant work the daughters are more like their mothers than not like them: June and Waverly are both willful and controlling while Lena has relived her mother’s wetnesses Only Rose is different unable to copy An Mei Men meanwhile are hardly visible in ‘The Joy Luck Club” (you wouldn’t know these women had fathers) and the few seen here are weak and controlling This is the only flaw the only weakness in an otherwise formidable film that alternately instructs and entertains and gently nudges us to be more understanding In an utterly healthy way it asks that we think before we hate and to “live and let live” This lovely movie encourages us to see the power that we all have over one another And that power it says doesn’t always have to be destructive t 4 ' V1 ‘ I 4 ’ i I 4

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