Registering the Registry 2020: The Joy Luck Club (1993)

Wang directing.
Cast reunion.
  • Lindo (Tsai Chin present, Irene Ng flashback) was given away by a matchmaker when she was just a child, sent to marry a boy and deliver grandchildren in a loveless marriage. Through clever exploitation of superstitious beliefs, she won her freedom. Years later, her daughter Waverly (Tamlyn Tomita present, Mai Vu flashback) is a local chess champion, her mother’s bragging pride and joy, which comes to an end when Waverly challengers Lindo’s use of her as a prideful token, leading to strain between the two and a total loss of Waverly’s confidence. In the present, Waverly plans to marry Rich (Christopher Rich), and endlessly frets over whether or not her mother will approve, especially when Rich makes an utter ass of himself through bad table manners at a family meeting. Mother and daughter reveal their innermost doubts to one another at a hair salon, finally understanding that beneath their sharp-witted, competitive natures, they really do want what’s best for one another, and only speak so harshly because they care.
  • Ying-Ying (France Nuyen present, Faye Yu flashback) made the poor choice of marrying a cruel man (Russell Wong) in China, an adulterer who enjoyed bringing his conquests home and mocking her pain at his infidelity. Without realizing the weight of her actions, she took the one thing she could to hurt him and escape the marriage by drowning their infant son in the bath. A lifetime of trauma recovery followed, and by the time Ying-Ying was again lucid, her daughter Lena (Lauren Tom) had married a similarly cruel man (Michael Paul Chan) who torments her by making all purchases supposedly fair and even through a labyrinthian system of calculations that makes no account for his vastly greater salary. With Lena too attached to her routine to acknowledge her unhappiness, Ying-Ying overbalances a poorly designed table to shatter a vase and gain her daughter’s attention, having a heart to heart about recognizing your value before you are driven to desperate action, and successfully inspiring her daughter to stand up for herself.
  • In childhood, An-Mei (Lisa Lu present, Yi Ding flashback) saw her mother (Vivian Wu) banished from the house for reasons she could not understand. Scalded by hot soup in the middle of an argument, she lived with an uncaring family until her mother arrived to display a daughter’s sacrificial loyalty for the dying grandmother who’d long since disowned her. Decades down the line, Rose (Rosalind Chao) is in the midst of divorce from Ted (Andrew McCarthy), a man she once loved for his passion and willingness to defy racist parents, now revealed as distant and hollow through numerous affairs. With her daughter paralyzed by the weight of her choice, An-Mei tells Rose of how she came to live with her own mother. Raped by a wealthy man and not believed when she told the truth, An-Mei’s mother had to serve as lowly fourth wife in a household dominated by a cruel and calculating second wife (Elizabeth Sung), slowly revealing the sheer indignities of her situation beneath the false glamor of security in wealth, until she took her own life to kill her weak spirit and strengthen An-Mei. Just as An-Mei learned to shout from her mother’s death, this story inspires Rose to plant herself against Rich’s demands for quick action and fight for what’s hers in the divorce.
Some highlights

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Gargus

Gargus

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I write on the National Film Registry. Articles appear biweekly. Any pronouns will do. Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/gargus