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USA/China 1993
Directed by
Wayne Wang
135 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

The Joy Luck Club

Adapted by Amy Tan and Ronald Bass from the former’s best-selling 1989 novel The Joy Luck Club is a poignant exploration of the American-Chinese immigrant experience as portrayed through the lives of four women who were born in China but eventually settled in America and those of their American-born and raised daughters. The film is structured as a series of flashbacks in which each of the mother-daughter pairings reflect on their experiences separately at a farewell  party which is being held for June (Ming-Na Wen) one of the daughters who is about to travel to China to meet for the first time two half-sisters whom she has never met.   

The Joy Luck Club (the name the older women have given to their weekly mah-jong get-together) needs its relatively long running time to do justice to its wide ranging material as it examines the harrowing experiences of the older women in tradition-bound pre-revolutionary China and the very different lives of their Westernized daughters in San Francisco. Connecting the often strained relationships between the two worlds are sacrifices and hopes of which the younger generation have little idea.

For all the richness of the material and the complexity of the story-telling that requires many actresses of different ages to play the characters (there are no male roles of note) the film moves effortlessly back and forth in time and space building up a telling and insightful account of the Chinese immigrant experience (experiences to which no doubt immigrants of many backgrounds would relate).

At times Wang presses the sentiment button a little too hard (he goes all-out with the reunion of the sisters at the film’s end) and there are occasional moments that feel a little awkward but The Joy Luck Club is a film that manages to seamlessly weave together the historical and the intimate, its eloquent story-telling bringing to light a depth of emotion rarely captured by Hollywood.




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