Two Decades of ‘Joy’

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From left: Phil Yu, Wayne Wang, Rosalind Chao, Maysie Hoy, Heidi Levitt.

From left: Phil Yu, Wayne Wang, Rosalind Chao, Maysie Hoy, Heidi Levitt. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

The 1993 movie “The Joy Luck Club,” based on the bestseller by Amy Tan, was screened Feb. 11 at the Japanese American National Museum as part of the “Big Trouble in Little Tokyo” film series, with some members of the audience viewing it for the first time.

Participating in the Q&A were:

  • “Angry Asian Man” blogger Phil Yu, who served as moderator;
  • Director Wayne Wang, who directed “Eat a Bowl of Tea” and “Dim Sum” prior to “Joy Luck Club” and has since directed such films as “Maid in Manhattan,” “Anywhere But Here” and “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan”;
  • Cast member Rosalind Chao, who played Rose, daughter of An-Mei (Lisa Lu), and whose credits include “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “Six Feet Under” and “The OC”;
  • Editor Maysie Hoy, who has worked on several of Tyler Perry’s films;
  • Casting director Heidi Levitt, who has worked with Wang on other films as well as with directors Oliver Stone, Wim Wenders and Neil LaBute.

Wang recounted the difficulties of getting a major studio to back a movie with eight Asian American women in lead roles as Chinese immigrant mothers and their American-born daughters, plus additional actresses playing the mothers and daughters at different ages, and the tight budget constraints imposed upon him.

Because of various problems that arose while filming on location in China, Wang said, many of the China scenes were filmed on sets built in Richmond, a city in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Levitt recalled finding the actresses across the country and noted that they were all stage and screen veterans, though they weren’t household names. Wang added that the decision was made not to limit casting to Chinese Americans — the cast includes Kieu Chinh as Suyuan, mother of June (Ming-Na Wen); France Nuyen as Ying-Ying, mother of Lena (Lauren Tom); and Tamlyn Tomita as Waverly, daughter of Lindo (Tsai Chin).

Hoy said that if “Joy Luck” were made today, the long takes that explored each character’s story (“letting the actors breathe,” as Wang put it) would not have been possible, since fast cutting is now the norm. She was delighted that the film still holds up today.

Chao, who took the role even though she had just had a baby, noted that Wang, unlike other directors, changed his technique so that each character’s story was told in a different way.

Wang reflected that “Joy Luck” shows a certain naivete, in a good way, compared to the cynicism of many of today’s films. He has found that the film’s depiction of mother-daughter ties — for example, fears that daughters will repeat their mothers’ mistakes — resonates with people from many different ethnicities.

Although “Joy Luck” has been criticized for its negative depictions of Asian men — Yu said that was the one reservation he had about the film — Wang said those characters reflected the “culture of machoism” that he experienced growing up in Hong Kong, and that the film is first and foremost the women’s story.

One man in the audience said that the pain and the joy experienced by the characters moved him to tears.

“Big Trouble in Little Tokyo” is co-presented by JANM, Angry Asian Man, First Pond Entertainment, and Visual Communications. The next film in the series is “Big Trouble in Little China” (1986) on April 8.

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