Summary: "The Joy Luck Club", based on the novel by Amy Tan, is the story of four Chinese mothers and their American daughters. In particular, it is the story of their struggles for independence and self-discovery, told in lushly filmed vignettes that bind together the transcendent theme that self-esteem doesn't come cheaply.
A feather. The feather of a swan. A feather that carries with it all the hopes and dreams of a Chinese woman who left everything behind as she fled to America. Her hopes and dreams of a daughter who would be born in America, speak "perfect American English", and implicitly, live happy and free of the horrors her mother had fled in China. So begins the "Joy Luck Club", a story of four such Chinese mothers, their struggles for self-discovery in China, and their daughters' equally powerful struggles in America. There are eight stories here, but one overarching theme unifies, reinforces, and amplifies the lesson of self-esteem and it's survival value.
Lindo (Tsai Chin) was sold as a young girl in China. The sale was cemented when she was four or so. She was delivered at age fifteen, to a pre-pubescent husband who likes to play with lizards and a mother-in-law who sees her as nothing more than a grandson factory. Her brilliant escape from this nightmare grips with the same force as her daughter Waverly's escape from a different sort of prison.
An Mei (Lisa Lu) was the daughter of a lowly Fourth Wife, a mere concubine in a patriarchal home. Dealing with her mother's death, and learning the importance of knowing one's worth, sets the stage for her daughter Rose's story. Played brilliantly by Rosalind Chao, Rose finds her voice, and discovers her worth, when coming to grips with a marriage gone sour.
Ying-Ying (France Nuyen) wasn't sold. She wasn't born into a hopeless situation. Hers is a story of self-betrayal, and its price. A self-betrayal so horrifying that it left her soul fractured, sometimes paralyzing her into a catatonic state, unconscious of everything in the world except for one unspeakable regret. In her daughter Lina she sees the same weakness of spirit, the same tragic humility, and, most gratifyingly, a way to recapture what she had previously surrendered. In the defining scene of their story, she tells Lina: "Do you know what you want, I mean from him? Then tell him now. Do not come back until he gives you those things. Losing him does not matter. It is you who will be found." In nurturing her daughter's self-affirmation, she makes huge strides in healing herself.
The feather is Suyuan's (Kieu Chinh). In her escape from China, she carries nothing but her dreams, and the memory of what she left behind in China. It is that story that closes the film, as her daughter June returns to China to discover her mother's past and to find her own fulfillment of her mother's hopes.