Comparing the Novel and Film Version of Joy Luck Club
Wayne Wang's adaptation of Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club combines literary and cinematic devices by adopting the novel's narrative techniques and strengthening them through image and sound. The adaptation exemplifies not a destruction or abuse of Amy Tan's novel, but the emergence of a new work of art, not hindered but enhanced by the strengths of its literary precursor.
Incorporating her family's own experiences as Chinese immigrants to the United States, Amy Tan tells the story of four Chinese mothers (Suyuan Woo, An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, Ying-ying St. Clair) and their American-born daughters (Jing-mei "June" Woo, Rose Hsu Jordan, Waverly Jong, Lena St. Clair). Having left their homeland in the hope of escaping their traumatic past and securing better opportunities for their daughters, the mothers recount the hardships they endured in adjusting to their new homes in San Francisco's Chinatown. The largest Chinese community outside Asia, the novel's Chinatown - as in reality - blends together elements of the immigrants' ancestral homeland with the American way of life. It illustrates the life of "dualities" many Chinese Americans encounter - "two identities, two voices, two cultures, and even two names" (Huntley 73).
While Amy Tan composes her novel out of distinct narratives, she interweaves the stories by means of recurrent themes and symbols. Having immigrated after the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed by Congress, all four women lament the alienation from their daughters who have lost rapport with their mothers and their Chinese heritage by embracing the lifestyle and attitude of the American mainstream culture. In addition to the common themes of immigration and generational conflict, Tan interrelates her stories through the themes of food, dream, and language.
Defenders of high culture, such as Hannah Arendt, George Bluestone, and Virginia Woolf, have contended that, in their search for entertainment, adaptations often demand destructive alterations of literature (Boyum, p.7). Yet the need for entertainment does not threaten Tan's already captivating Joy Luck Club. The novel's easy-flowing, poetic language, along with the explosiveness of the American subject of immigration, account for the enthusiastic response among the international readership and for the excellent book reviews of, among others, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and San Francisco Chronicle.
Though director Wayne Wang slightly alters the novel's plot, the changes occur without detriment to the novel. Like the book, the film clearly conveys the disjunction between both generations, brought about by cultural misunderstanding, language barriers, and differing values. However, the film is more optimistic in that it concludes with an explicit reconciliation between the mothers and their Americanized daughters rather than just the "fragile détente" (Huntley 44)...