You may be forgiven for thinking that the Joy Luck Club is a film about Chinese culture. For me it is so much more. The film should speak to anyone who is part of a migrant family living in the Western World, anyone who struggles to understand and/or connect with their parents, and anyone who must learn more about their strength and self-worth.
The Joy Luck Club tells the stories of four Chinese women and their American daughters. Each of the eight women have powerful tales of overcoming challenges in their lives. The contrast between Eastern hardship and Western privilege is clear, yet remarkably, the film manages to show us that this is somewhat irrelevant to the distress an individual experiences when they are suffering. All women share a single quality, the strength and power of hope.
“Waverly picked best quality crab. You chose worst. Because you have best quality heart”Suyuan – The Joy Luck Club, 1993
‘It’s not wrong to hope’ one mother, Suyuan says to her daughter June, after an impassioned talk in the kitchen.
June struggles with not being good enough. Many of us can relate to this. Suyuan invests everything in her daughter yet June is mediocre. It seems that to compensate, June pours her heart and soul into being kind and charitable.
I relate to this because as a child I have always been completely aware that my mum wants more for me. This is distressing because to consistently not achieve it means that I am consistently disappointing her. But in the film, there is an emotional moment where the June realises that a mother can never lose hope for their child. She also realises that her mother sees her and values how special she is. My mother is the same. I am enough. My mother just wants good things for me.
The reason my blog is called Phoenix is that the legendary bird would often find itself consumed by flames and collapse into a heap of ashes.
One of the mothers in The Joy Luck Club, Ying Ying tells a very dark story about an abusive relationship. Like most abusive relationships, she is drawn to his pursuit of her. It validates her and awakens her sexuality. This story breaks my heart the most but I’ll let you find out why for yourself.
Many of us validate ourselves by the way others treat us. When people do really evil things to us, it can break us. In a mixture of rage, despair and vengeance, we often do unspeakable acts. I cannot relate to Ying Ying’s actions, but I can forgive her what happens. I can however relate to the desperation she would have felt to do what she does.
Another of the mothers, An-Mei tells a strange story about growing up in a house where her mother is a fourth wife to a wealthy polygamous man. Her mother contends with an evil woman who uses manipulation, lies and blackmail to inflict suffering and get ahead.
As a young girl, An-Mei faces off against this evil woman to assert the truth, and to defend her family’s honour. This is important to me because I am very values-driven. I have met many manipulative people in my life, and though I may fall into their traps more than I’d like, I have developed the defiance and strong will to face my enemies and live by my own values. An-Mei’s story inspired me.
My favourite story is probably one most people will consider to be understated.
The story is about American daughter Rose, who forms a beautiful relationship with a college jock. What we see here is a healthy relationship between two wonderful people. There is one crucial mistake.
The humble and kind Rose progressively puts her partner’s needs ahead of her own. He deserves it too. He stands by her, protects her and loves her immensely. Rose soon finds that she has dug a grave for her own self-worth, and when things become challenging she relies on her natural talent to makes others happy before herself.
It is truly a powerful moment when Rose finally realises how she has buried herself. She stands her ground and teaches her partner how she wants to be respected.
A friend of mine once said to me that he hopes one day I’ll stop treating partners as if they deserve more respect than I do. I now know what he means. I have learned in life that while charity is a wonderful virtue it’s important to expect respect from others, especially those we are kind to. I’m not talking about entitlement or a misplaced narcissism. I’m talking about the fact that as individuals, we should be getting what we need as a result of our life choices. If we are not, then our choices are not serving us well in life.
The Joy Luck Club is a great film, and unsurprisingly an even better book. Is there a film that defined you?
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