Fête Chinoise Pulse x TIFF18: Joy Luck Club
Written by: Jennifer J. Lau
Last night, Fête Chinoise was invited by TIFF (the Toronto International Film Festival) to the only screening of Joy Luck Club (1993). I watched the film along with its director Wayne Wang, casting director Heidi Levitt, actors Kieu Chinh, Tsai Chin, Tamlyn Tomita, and a couple hundred other film supporters in the very same theatre where the film was first screened 25 years ago in Toronto. It was especially sentimental for those who had seen it in the 90s. For me, I was too young then but I wanted to share my thoughts on last night’s panel hosted by the inquisitive and articulate Lainey Liu.
(Some spoiler alerts below.)
Kieu Chinh plays Suyuan, the mother of two twin babies, whom she was forced to abandon in wartime China before immigrating to America and giving birth to her third daughter, June. In the panel, Kieu Chinh revealed her personal journey as a young orphan due to war in Vietnam. The actress claimed that when playing this role that she wasn’t acting at all, she was living the part. In the abandonment scene shot in China, director Wayne Wang encouraged her with these words: “It doesn’t matter what language you speak, I just want you emotional. I just want your feeling.” The actress explained that she cried out “my child” in Vietnamese and not in English and not in Chinese because of Wang’s reassurance and because “it’s international language: the love, the emotional, and the art.” She points to the beauty of the universal language of humanity. It is this language and possibility for dialogue that makes me hopeful in cinematic and literary creations – and the subsequent discussions that allow us to celebrate local and global sentiments.
Asian representation is great but we should remember how many more stories there are to tell about each region on the local level (such as within Chinese-speaking communities) and about other under-represented groups. While we are different, we are also interrelated. I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians (2018) very much and sincerely hope we do not stop there. More than sequels, we need to seek opportunities to tell narratives about the Asian North American experience that go beyond the expected. As Tamlyn Tomita, the actor who plays Waverly in Joy Luck Club, said last night: “We have to support everyone so that their stories don’t get invisibilized [sic]. It’s just about [saying] we have hearts, we have souls, we have minds, we have faults, we have flaws, and we’re super freaking interesting.”