In 1993, Amy Tan’s award-winning novel “The Joy Luck Club” was brought to the screen. It was the first major motion picture to feature an all Asian-American cast to tell an all-Asian-American story. While the original film revealed what it meant to be a mother, the anticipated sequel will follow the four daughters into their journeys of motherhood. To help tell this next chapter of mothers and daughters (and now grandmothers), original screenwriter Ronald Bass will be reuniting with Tan to bring to life the next generation of these four families.
Tan’s narrative bridges the generational gap between four Chinese women who immigrated to the US and produced four American daughters. What struck Asian audiences was its reflection of their own family and even more so, recognizing a face they’d never seen on screen before.
The film follows Wu Jingmei’s first Joy Luck Club gathering since the death of her mother, where she is expected to take her mother’s seat at the mahjong table. The Joy Luck Club was her mom’s, Suyan Woo, creation– an evening full of playing mahjong, sharing stories, and hoping for luck. Surrounded by her aunties, Ying-Ying, An-Mei, and Lindo, they reveal the stories that compose her mother’s past. As they unveil the secrets of their deceased friend, they also disclose the hidden stories of their own past life in China. These vignettes of both the mothers’ and daughters’ lives display a common anxiety of never understanding the other— a universal fear that mothers and daughters are forced to confront.
For the film industry, The Joy Luck Club broke the standard roles that at the time were available to Asian actors. The actresses who had played the daughters, Ming-Na Wen as Jingmei, Rosalind Chao as Rose, Tamlyn Tomita as Waverley, and Lauren Tom as Lena, were previously typecasted to small, side character roles that fit the Asian stereotype. “Asian American women were objectified,” said Chao. “Pretty was really all they cared about.” Their involvement in the “Joy Luck Club” opened new possibilities for these actresses, leading them later to roles in the hit show “Friends” and to voice Disney’s first Asian Princess Mulan. Additionally, the young actresses were each paired with an on-screen mother who was played by a pioneer of Asian American cinema: Kieu Chinh as Suyuan, France Nuyen as Ying-Ying, Lisa Lu as An-Mei, and Tsai Chin as Lindo.
As the sequel’s script is being written, the original leading cast is in talks to return to their roles, as mothers and grandmothers of their families. The sequel will hopefully provide young, aspiring Asian actors with the opportunity to introduce the next generation of Joy Luck Club members and to continue the legacy the original film had established.
Editors: Cathay L., Leila W.
Photo Credits: Everett Collection