How did the movie The Joy Luck Club impact society?
I don't think the movie impacted society much at all. Yes, it was a faithful adaptation of the novel, but it wasn't nominated for any major Academy awards.
It has some nice cross-cutting, as it transitions from the 1920s to the 1950s and the 1990s fairly seamlessly. But, other than that, it's unremarkable.
The novel, however, made a splash in the literary world as Chinese-American immigrant literature, as a feminist novel, and as a coming-of-age bildungsroman.
The novel examines the hybrid identity, as Jing Mei says she becomes Chinese by the end of the novel after she visits China and her twin half-sisters, but I don't really believe her.
Just as she never learns to play Mah-Jong or chess using Chinese strategy, Jing-Mei never feels or thinks Chinese by the novel's end; in fact, she continues to narrate as a post-modern American: linear-thinking and quick to point out things.
It is the narrator's repeated visual comparison of what she thinks will be old-world China to post-modern America that sets a very American tone: "From a distance, it [Shanghai] looks like a major American city"; "...each of them [her half-sisters] holding a corner of the [Polaroid] picture, watching as their images begin to form"; "She [Lili] immediately jumps forward, places one hand on her hip in the manner of a fashion model, juts out her chest, and flashes me a toothy smile."
Even the title, "A Pair of Tickets," emphasizes the purchased objects of a journey. After having depicted the first-generation cousins as spoiled, Tan uses positive imagery of consumerism to drive home her themes of cultural and female identity, giving as much homage to the Garden Hotel and Number One Department Store as Buddha and the Great Wall. It would be understandable if she used images of materialism to juxtapose the old world Chinese values with the new world "American Dream," but with statements like "I feel as if I were getting on a number 30 Stockton bus in San Francisco" but "I am in China" (272), Tan (or Jing-Mei) is not so much discovering her ancestral roots, but realizing that her Communist homeland is not so communal--it is as modern and capitalistic as California.
I agree that the film did not have a huge impact on "society" in the traditional sense of the word, but what it did do was make the novel more accessible to the masses, and I feel that is important. This film gave us a glimpse at another ethnicity in the literary canon - the Asian American writer. It allowed us to see inside of the lives of Asian Americans and understand the clash of cultures that exists as well as the desire to understand where we come from. The bonds that exist between the generations and the passing of the torch from mother to daughter are also important. This was a piece about family, about friendship, and about the intermingling of two cultures and the problems associated with crossing cultural boundaries.
MsStultz has given you an excellent analysis of the novel. What I think the film did is to open that novel up to a much wider array of people. It is significant for the fact that it invites the viewer to experience a different culture in much the same way Jing-Mei does, for even though she is "of" the culture by virtue of her birth and her heritage, she is more a part of the American culture. As such, she is often at odds with her heritage. She looks Chinese on the outside, but on the inside she is American. The more she learns about her past, however, the more important it becomes to her. I think the film teaches the importance of heritage, but it also teaches the importance of reaching beyond our outward differences to understand that some things, such as love and friendship, are universal.
One of the primary impacts of Tan's work was the emergence of other narratives as part of the discourse. The idea of the bildundgsroman was something that had not been extended to other narratives and experiences, but with Tan's novel, the idea of being able to understand other narratives from different backgrounds became vitally important. The emergence of an Asian- American narrative became something that was accepted as commonplace and something that became more validated with the presence of Tan's novel. Additionally, to be able to emerge with a multiage narrative being told from a traditional and modern woman's point of view in which specific points of contrast and convergence are evident is something that was of vital importance to the discourse.