I watched the Joy Luck Club for the second time, a couple weeks back. Joy Luck Club is one of the movies in my book that I can watch multiple times and not get tired of it. It isn’t particularly a cinematic triumph. The cast is good, but not ground-breaking; the way the film was directed was also decent but nothing extremely inspiring. But, the thing that makes Joy Luck Club unforgettable for me is the story.
The story takes place in San Francisco and revolves around the lives of four Chinese immigrant women who get together to play mahjong together. The movies begins after one of the Chinese mothers, June’s mother, has passed away and June is informed that she’ll be going to China to meet her long-lost holder half sisters. The story is told in the form of four vignettes, one for each of the four mother-daugther pairs. The story tells of the struggles for each of the women in either China or in the United States, and revolves around issues of gender, societal expectations, cultural assimilation, and mother-daughter bonds.
Each of the four vignettes offers an insight into the struggles faced by Chinese women, in the past and by extension to the present. Some of these struggles can be related to, such as trying to stay in the good favor of a traditional mother; does she approve of my actions? Am I doing things the right way? However, the struggles of the mothers belongs in a time outside of our own; in many ways it doesn’t make sense and is unimaginable considering the society we’re from now. Arranged marriage at the age of sixteen via a matchmaker? Not a normal occurrence in the United States. Having four wives? Polygamy is also not a commonly accepted practice in this country? Some of the traditional actions, like a daughter giving a dying mother her blood, is also not something we are familiar with. However, the themes in this story are what gives insight into the Chinese and Chinese-American experience. Viewers can see, understand, and grow to appreciate the struggles faced by these women; with this, viewers can become a bit more cognizant of people of other cultures.
As a Middle Eastern woman, some of the themes involving gender hit close to home. There are many unspoken lessons passed on to daughters by their mothers. As a child growing up, I’ve seen mothers of my people, be the home-makers; to silently work wonders behind the scene, to make sure that their husbands are satisfied and the children well taken care of. There isn’t any wrong with wanting to do this, and I support any women who wishes to do this. However, there are many who devalue their own existence; if there is a problem inside the household, it was most likely their fault. These women of steel slowly swallow their own wants and needs to make sure that everyone in the house is happy; it is their responsibility and their duty. I’ve seen these same women tire themselves out, age themselves for taking on this responsibility to make the home, as if that is what will define their worth in life. I guess it should be clear by now that An-Mei’s and Rose’s stories spoke the most to me.
Times are changing, and I look forward to the changes that are to come. But, somethings don’t change fast enough. Next time I’m feeling sentimental and introspective, I’ll be sure to grab a tissue box and re-watch Joy Luck Club.