T Nation

Pat and Others: The Joy Luck Club

Pat. I can’t believe that with all the expertise you have both in movies and Cultures of South East Asia, and with all the discussions that we have had on this Forum about movies, that I never asked you about your thoughts on “The Joy Luck Club”.

“The Joy Luck Club” would fall under the category of a movie that I originally saw on a whim, but one that I left realizing that I had seen one of the most powerful movies I had ever seen on culture, survival, love, faith, relationships and forgiveness. I think that it also opened a piece of history that I knew little about, as you followed the lives of four young girls in an era just prior to the Communist Revolution in China, to their lives in the United States, and the eventual relationships, and inevitable conflicts they had, with their “modern” daughters; young women who not only found themselves caught between that awful chasm that can exist between the “modern” and “traditional” but young women who eventually realized that they were probably not much different from their strong willed mothers…and that their mothers were truly amazing Human Beings. And folks… you want to talk about “survival”? Then see this film.

Many people classify “The Joy Luck Club” as a “chick flick” (which I will NEVER understand)…but so be it. Rent it some weekend if you really want to see some powerful depictions of the Human Spirit…


As with many other examples of movies made from books, the book is a must-read–especially since you enjoyed the film so much. Amy Tan is a fantastic writer and all of her books are excellent. Her style is mesmerizing, drawing you in completely into the lives and emotions of her characters.

I had a zero reading of T for 2 weeks after watching Joy Luck Club.

just foolin’ around!

Hi Mufasa: My mother is Cantonese. She is about 64 years old now (something she doesn’t admit - but she looks barely 40-50 yrs old!). What my mom went through when growing up in China would be a movie in itself! “The Joy Luck Club” is a very personal movie for me. It touches ALOT of what many first generation Asian American women have gone through or will go through. Which is why I have never mentioned it. To me, it would be a disservice to this movie to just relegate it to some old category. It’s more than that.

I have it, but rarely watch it. It's a hard movie for me to watch.

My apologies, Pat…I can only imagine how difficult it must be. I can remember the emotions I felt the first time I saw “The Joy Luck Club”…and these were lives very removed from my own…

Somehow I gained a much greater appreciation for the often overused phase “the strengh and power of the human spirit…”

No need to apologize, Mufasa! The Joy Luck Club is a movie that proves that some good stuff with strong substance can come out of H-Town.

Wayne Wang was the director of this movie. Might I suggest a few others by him? He's very good. "Blue in the Face", "Smoke", "Dim Sum:A Little Bit of Heart", "Center of the World" and "Chan is Missing". All very good flicks.

I got a certificate in Womens Studies (I didn’t make this up) and was forces to read Amy Tan over and over (the Joy Luck Club, Kitchen Gods Wife, etc…) and don’t get it. I’m just not interested in anything she has to say. Someone explain it to me…please?

It has been awhile since I read her books, but I remember them as being completely mesmerizing. It isn’t just the story, but her ability to so completely draw the reader into the characters. They come alive for me as I read her books–mainly because they are so believable and real. Characters in “pop” novels are usually fantasy people (nobody could ever be that perfect!). Amy Tan’s people are real–like us–and I think that’s why she is so successful. Also, as far as plot-line goes–she presents stories that most of us are not familiar with, and therefore are informative and interesting. Personally, I find the drawing card to be the emotion that spills from her words and her characters.

I enjoyed the movie, but not as much I would have if they could have had at least one young Asian male who was not dysfunctional in some way. Every single one of them had one weird neurosis or another. After watching he movie, I was left thinking, “What the fuck? Did Amy Tan really grow up seeing only screwed up Asian guys like that?” If that is so, I feel sorry for her. Notice that, in the end, every one of the young Asian women ended up with caucasian men. Hmmm, so is the message, get with a white man if you want to be happy? Don’t mean to make it such a racial thing–being married to someone outside of my ethnicity myself, but that detail just stuck in my craw.

The one main advice my mom useto always repeat when I was a young gal: “Don’t ever marry a Chinese man.” She still believes that to this day.

Well, given that Chinese women were a disadvantaged group among a larger disadvantaged group, I suppose your mother’s attitude towards the Chinese men of her times is understandable, but extending the same attitude towards today’s Chinese men is unfair. Immigrants to this country, men and women alike have had to deal with adversity and overcome them. If one was to look at the female’s experience under a microscope, one will no doubt find many instances where she had it harder than the man did. But, by the same token, if one examined the male experience, one would find that he had burdens of his own that were unique to his position in life. My father’s generation is different from his father’s, and my generation is different from my father’s. I feel that Amy Tan did a disservice to second generation Asian men all over this country who go through struggles of their own and somehow make the best of it. As a 1.5 generation Korean-American (That is born in Korea, but immigrated at an early age) growing up in El Paso, Texas, I went through crises of identity, being pulled in opposite directions by three different cultures. I am not claiming some special status. Each person’s experience is unique and special. What I saw in the Chinese male characters in the film were caricatures–cardboard cutout depictions of fucked-up milquetoasts. I would like to have seen come complete characters. Flawed is fine, but totally fucked up, every single one of them? Well, I can only guess Tan’s hatred of Chinese men shows through. As an Asian man, I’m offended.

I liked the movie and the book as well. But There was a lack of good Asian male chracter. But I know how hard it is to be a Asian male in the mainland. All the haole women don’t give you the time of day. Then the Asian women all want Haole men. Then their is the issue of being half/half too. just my 20 yen.

Wow…heavy things that I can’t begin to understand, but it brings up a thought and a question or two.

With a recent, very “lively” thread that we had on race, I was astounded by what so many people “knew” about a people and a culture from their very limited experiences. Therefore, I would never begin to sit here and comment on the cultures of South East Asia/China because I’ve read about The Vietnam and Korean Wars or have a love of Martial Arts Films. That would be an insult. So my questions:

  1. What is the term “Haole”?
  2. Hyok brought up the psycho nature of the YOUNG men in “The Joy Luck Club”. I also noticed that the elderly men (married to the older main characters) were also not placed in a great light. Almost “emasculated” if you may. Was that also the case in the book?

    3)Interesting, most likely skewed, view that Hyok brings up about successful American Women of Chinese descent. Studies have proven over and over again (despite the rantings of rascist) that the vast majority of people date and marry within their race and/or culture. So…most black men date and marry black women…most Jewish men Jewish women…and I would imagine most Chinese Women marry Chinese men.

    So I am curious…where does the perception come from that suceessful American women of Chinese Descent prefer White Men? Just curious.


I never saw the movie, but I have read the book and following with tradition. I’d have to say the book is most likely much better than the movie. However, it is somewhat hard to follow without knowing the basics of Chinese culture and how things were. If you just read along it’d still be a great read, just not have the emotional depth it should. Amy Tan’s writing, however, really carries the story. About the Asian women and white men… I do see alot of that type of thing going on. It’s just how things seem to be.

Hi Mufasa: it just became 2AM. And yes, I am up - STILL doing artwork. Not going to bed until I’m done…anywhoos, I will provide you my answers later on Sunday. Now, just wanted to answer your “Haole” question: Simply I’m a Hapa Haole (and so is Ko) because I’m a “hapa” which means I’m of Asian decent (Hapa can also mean you’re mixed Asian decent), and “haole” which means I’m also “white” (German and Irish, specifically). I believe the root of this term is Hawaii. Where you might overhear native Hawaiians refer the white tourists as “Haoles”.

Mufasa, you bring up a lot of points that would take a book to answer. First of all, “haole” is a Hawaiian term for whites. I think it used to refer to anyone from the mainland, but now it has come to mean pretty much any white person. “Hapa” means mixed. It could possibly come from the Korean word “hapcheo” which means to join or unite.

Apparently much of the Hawaiian Pidgin comes from a combination of corrupted Japanese, Korean, Chinese and native Hawaiian. Jared Diamond’s “The Third Chimpanzee” has a very nice discussion of pidgin languages. It is quite amazing how pidgin quickly develops within a couple of generations into a full blown language with no loss of expressive power of an established language. It seems to support Noam Chomsky’s notion that language is hardwired into the human brain.

As for the Asian women and white men phenomenon, “The Third Chimpanzee” also devotes chapters to the nature of human attraction. Studies tend to show that people tend to marry people who resemble those one grew up with. So, a Chinese girl growing up in a predominantly white area would probably marry a white man.

Also, that tendency is also balanced by the human tendency to marry outside of one’s immediate family group. This appears to be an inborn incest taboo. In a study done in Israeli kibbutzes, it was found that most people tended to marry outside of their own kibbutz, because the other people in their kibbutz were seen almost like brothers and sisters, though they were not blood related.

The third factor for women, is that they tend to marry “up.” They marry into power and money. It is possible that white men, with established power and wealth in this country, are seen as more attractive by women.

This is not to deny that Asian women of past generations have genuine grievances towards their men (as do American women in past generations). My aunt’s voice filled anger and indignation at recalling the times she had been treated badly by Korean men because she was a woman. Strangely, what made matters worse was that she was very pretty. She could not just blend into the background, but attracted a lot of unwanted attention. But she didn’t marry an American simply out of spite. At her age of 30, she was simply too old for most discriminating Korean men. Also, she did have a long-time love who was Korean, but my grandmother did not approve of the man’s family background. My aunt had resigned herself to being an old maid until my uncle came along.

Inspite of my aunt’s negative opinion, in general, of the Korean men of her generation, she does not carry that feeling to today’s Asian men. Perhaps her love of her outstanding nephers color her judgment ;-). In fact, she has a lower opinion of Asian-American women. In the name of liberation and modernity, she feels that they have totally abandoned all sense of propriety and womanliness. They have gone too far in the opposite extreme.

From my perspective, with apologies to those Asian-American women out there who do not fit the description, most have gone out of their way to be “American” to the extent that they have become extreme caricatures of “American” traits. A part of that is to marry outside of their race. A move that I can only interpret as self-loathing.

I don’t have an issue with the interracial aspect per se. In fact, I have a couple of friend, who happen to be white, who I would be very happy if my sister was to marry, rather than any Korean guy I know. I have issues with the reason most Asian women get with white guys. If these women made choices in a color-blind manner, we would see much less Asian women-white man pairings.

I do have to add that, we in the Korean-American community, tend to police their own a little too strictly. Because we live in a society in which any individual action is seen by the majority as being representative of the whole minority group, one feels this extreme pressure to not fuck up. One feels that it is very difficult to be an individual, without being incorrectly perceived within the group and outside of the group. So, many people just rebel and go against all the influences of their parents. A part of that is marrying outside of their group.

In my personal case, though I married another Asian (Japanese), I did not marry another Korean because I did not follow the religion of the majority of Koreans living in the U.S. I just had too much pride to stoop to attending church to just meet girls. The Korean-American community life revolves around church, and I just don’t fit in. To me shared values and world view are the most important things. If a black girl or a white girl met those criteria, I would have married her.

Haole is the Hawaiian word that is used to describe a foreigner. It’s original meaning is without breath. The word applied to all non-Hawaiians, but now it is now used to describe a caucasian man. I was born and raised in Hawaii, and am living here right now. My Dad is white(haole) while my mom is a Sansei. Hapa means half, hence HapaHaole. Also most of the people in Hawaii are of mixed ancenstry as well. At least T-Mag had a picure of that Japanese guy in the Ian King articles.