The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan (1989)
The Joy Luck Club directed by Wayne Wang (1993)
The Joy Luck Club won a poll a posted on my YouTube community page, so you should subscribe to my YouTube page so you can take part in future polls!
This is also my 100th book vs movie episode! I will be filming a q&a next week to celebrate, so if you have any questions, you would like me to answer, you can comment down below or on the community page post I made asking for questions.
The Joy Luck Club is about four Chinese women and the relationships they have with their Chinese American daughters. We also see into the relationships they had with their own mothers when they lived in China.
Amy Tan’s mother, Daisy, is from China and Tan drew from her and her mother’s own experiences to create each of the eight characters.
Overall, I did really like this book. An issue I had though was keeping the characters straight in my mind. I even made a chart for myself saying which mother experienced what, and which daughter was her to help me keep it all together. The book begins with a fairly short segment from each of the mothers, then we get segments from each of the daughters, then we go back to the mothers to finish the book out.
I also didn’t think the characters were distinct enough. All of the mothers were pretty similar and all of the daughters seemed almost the same. There are a couple times in the book we see the characters interacting with each other and I thought that provided even more depth to see how they interacted with each other. I wish there had been more scenes like that. But I get it is about the mother/daughter relationship, and the focus isn’t meant to be on the relationship between friends per se.
Despite my complaints, I thought this was a beautiful book.
The movie is a very faithful adaptation. There are some changes to the Ying Ying/Lena storyline, as well as the added farewell party for June; but all in all, it is very similar. There is a lot of voice over which seemed a bit much, but I read that Wang wanted to keep as much from the novel and to do that he needed the narration. I thought the performances were fantastic and being a movie, it was easier to keep the characters in line than it had been in the book.
Before getting into the details of the story, I want to warn you there will be spoilers throughout the rest of this video!
June and Suyuan
The book and movie begin and end with the stories of June and her mother Suyuan. At the start, we learn Suyuan has died a few months ago and so it is June’s duty to fill her spot in The Joy Luck Club. The three other women tell June that they have made contact with twin daughters Suyuan had left behind in China and that June has to go see them.
Suyuan had been leaving the town she was from, but on the journey, she got dysentery and was so sick and weak she couldn’t continue to carry her babies (in the movie she has them in this wooden cart, but in the book she had them in a carry thing on her back).
In the book we learn she takes off any jewels she had been wearing and puts them in the babies blanket along with a photo of herself and a note. We also learn a bit more about the family that took the babies in, and how the twins were found after Suyuan died, but these details are left out of the movie.
In the book, the three women confess to June that they didn’t tell the twins their mother had died. When June finds this out she convinces them to write them back letting them know it will be her showing up, not their mom. In the movie, the twins are never told of their mother’s death until June shows up in the end and tells them.
In book and movie, we learn about June and how her mom tried to get her to be a piano genius because she was jealous that Lindo could brag about her daughter being a chess champion. June doesn’t like playing piano and embarrasses herself and her mother at a recital where she plays a song terribly.
She also flounders in life it seems, not knowing what to do. We see near the end at the previous Chinese New Year they had people over, including Lindo and her daughter Waverly, for the crabs her mother makes.
There was a crab with a missing leg which June tries to take, but her mother stops her and she takes the bad crab. June is also embarrassed when she tries to show up Waverly by bringing up the fact that Waverly’s firm never paid for some freelance work she had done. But turns out the work wasn’t usable because it was so bad but Waverly hadn’t told her this because she didn’t want her to feel bad.
Lindo and Waverly
Lindo’s story is that when she was young, her mother promised her to be married to the son of a wealthy family. Her family has to leave when she is underage though, so she is given to the family early and they raise her until she is old enough to marry their son. They are both young, and when they are married the boy has no interest in sex. His mother wants sons, and so she is mad at Lindo for not being pregnant yet.
Lindo makes up a lie that their ancestors came to her in a dream and threatened her husband’s life if he stayed married to her and that he is meant to be married to one of the servants who secretly has royal blood and who Lindo knows is already pregnant. This works and she is able to get away and eventually moves to San Francisco.
Waverly becomes a chess champion at a very young age but is hates that her mom brags about her so much and feels she is being used. She stops playing chess to punish her mom, but then when she decides to play again, her mom has gotten under her skin and she can no longer win.
She ends up marrying a Chinese man, but her mom points out his flaws and it once again gets to Waverly so much she divorces him. She later is dating a white man and wants her mom to meet him but the mom seems resistant to even hearing about him. However, she and her mom have a moment of honesty and openness (this is even more clearly shown in the movie) and all is well. Waverly and her husband are going to go to China for their honeymoon and are going with her mother even.
An-Mei and Rose
When An-Mei is very young her mother is cast out from the family and years later she returns when her mother is dying. The family still disowns her, but when she leaves, An-Mei eats to be with her and follows. We learn that her father had died, and her mom was a widow. She was seen by this rich man and his second wife and the second wife devised a plan for An-Mei’s mom to be another wife for this man. He ends up raping her, and she then has nowhere to go but back to the man and become his fourth wife.
An-Mei sees the unhappy life her mom is living and finds out the story. Her mother then commits suicide, but the date she dies on is just a few days before a holiday and they believe her ghost will come back to make things right. The man then promises to raise her like his own daughter and to remember her mother has if she had been first wife, not fourth.
Her daughter Rose ends up marrying a white guy and she always lets him decide things but after a surgery goes wrong, he loses his confidence and wants to rely on her mom but she never wants to make any choices and he gets annoyed by this. He says he wants a divorce and Rose feels she has no choice. However, she decides she is going to keep the house (he wanted to sell it) and invited him over to talk about it. The book ends with that and we don’t know what happens from there.
In the movie we see more about how her mom told her the story of her own mother and the importance of knowing your worth. A line reading, “I tell you the story because I was raised the Chinese way. I was taught to desire nothing, to swallow other people’s misery, and to eat my own bitterness. And even though I taught my daughter the opposite, still she came out the same way. Maybe it is because she was born to me and she was born a girl, and I was born to my mother and I was born a girl, all of us like stairs, one step after another, going up, going down, but always going the same way. No, this cannot be, this not knowing what you’re worth, this not begin with you. My mother not know her worth until too late – too late for her, but not for me. Now we will see if not too late for you”
In the movie, Rose began to feel like her love was inferior to his and became meek and just going along with what he wants. After talking with her mom, she realizes her value and tells Ted she is keeping the house and talks about her grandmother. Ted is touched by this though, and rather than be upset, this is the Rose he has been wanting back-the assertive woman she was when they were together earlier in their relationship and we see that they end up staying together.
This was one of my favorite stories from the movie specifically and found it really powerful and touching.
In the book, Ted was a doctor, but in the movie his parents owned a big publishing house and that’s what he does as well. In both book and movie, when Rose meets his mom, she tells her that Ted can’t be with an Asian woman. In the movie, Ted overhears and tells off his mom. In the book, on the ride home Rose breaks up with him. He is caught off guard and she tells him what his mom had said to her. He then says that he loves her basically and they will be together anyway.
Ying-Ying and Lena
In the book and movie, Ying-ying marries a brash man and in the book when she is pregnant, he leaves and never returns. She ends up aborting the baby and has someone toss the small body into the river. She then works in the city and there is a white man who flirts with her, but nothing comes of it. Then she gets word that her husband has died and now that she is officially a widow, she decides to marry the white man and go to America. When in America, she has Lena, and then later has a miscarriage that puts her in a depression.
During this time with the miscarriage, Lena hears fighting from the apartment next door, but feels her life is worse because of the deadening silence that is always in the house because of her mother’s depression.
Lena ends up marrying Harold and when dating they split things even, and this is carried into marriage. In book and movie, we see that they split the cost of ice cream, but her mother points out that Lena doesn’t eat ice cream so why should she pay for half.
In the book we learn more about Lena’s childhood and how she had an eating disorder, and she felt guilty for potentially causing the death of a boy she was worried she would be destined to marry. We also learn that Lena encouraged Harold to start his own company, but he didn’t want her to be a partner in the company and so she makes considerably less.
Her mother visits and can see the unhappy marriage Lena is in and causes a vase on a shaky table to fall as a way to get Lena to come to her. In the book it ends with this and we don’t know what happens after.
In the movie, we see them talk, and there is a great line when Lena says she can’t leave Harold. Ying-ying tells her it doesn’t matter that she will lose Harold, what matters is that she will find herself. Later see that Lena is now with someone else and is very happy.
With Ying-ying, in the movie she marries the guy who ends up sleeping around. She gives birth to his son, but he still sleeps around and is abusive to her. She is depressed and one day is bathing the baby when she lets him drown. She immediately regrets this, and the death of this baby is what causes her to be in a depression throughout her adult life. The movie doesn’t show the miscarriage she has after Lena.
Knowing your worth
A big theme of the book and maybe even more so the movie, is knowing your worth and not to devalue yourself. A really loved this message and it is a good lesson for everyone, but I think it is especially important for women because I think women tend to be the ones that think they aren’t worth as much. Each of these stories deals with the daughters learning their worth. Well, maybe less so with Waverly. She seemed like a person who knew her value, but her mother had this control over her and made her doubt herself. But we see that she was misinterpreting what her mother meant.
Daisy, Tan’s mother, had daughters that she had left in China and the two of them ended up going back to meet them. This experience was the beginning inspiration for the book. Daisy’s mother also committed suicide, similar to Ying-Ying’s mom. Tan had a difficult relationship with her mom through the years, and I wonder if that is why we never see as clear a reconciliation between mother and daughter in the book. Whereas in the movie each mother/daughter has a moment when they open up to each other and becomes closer and understand each other more.
Book vs movie
I am actually going to say the movie wins. It is a faithful adaptation, but it adds those key moments between mother and daughter that I found really moving and it shows what happens with each of the daughters later, which we don’t get in the book. The movie also has everyone at a going away part for June before she leaves for China, and I liked seeing them all gathered together.