'Joy Luck Club' Producers See Movie Promise in Tiger Mom Controversy

5:15 PM PST 01/26/2011 by Bryan Alexander

Amy Chua's memoir on parenting has captured the nation's attention, but can 'Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother' recreate the movie success of the 1989 film?

Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has sparked a furious debate about motherhood on the Internet -- much of it based around her accompanying Wall Street Journal essay, "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior." It has also captured the attention of Hollywood.

The most recent big screen adaptation of a book touching on themes of mother-daughter relationships among Chinese-Americans is 1989's The Joy Luck Club ($33 million domestic gross). Two of the film's producers interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter have expressed a strong interest in seeing Chua's book brought to the screen.

The national debate her memoir has sparked is one obvious reason for the entertainment industry interest. The extreme-parenting anecdotes about the author forcing her daughter to play the piano have prompted a record number of comments on the Wall Street Journal website (7,507 and counting).

Ron Bass co-wrote the Joy Luck Club screenplay with the book's author, Amy Tan, and co-produced the movie. Bass was so excited about Chua's book as a movie prospect that he almost lied about its worth to throw others off the scent.

"I was tempted to say, 'Nah, there's nothing here,' " he says. "And then I was going to have my agent find out if the rights were available. Not only is there a movie here, I definitely think it's more than one movie."

In his estimation, the least interesting angle is the simple retelling of the Chua story.

"If the question is whether Amy's story itself is a movie, of course it could be," he says. "Is that the best way to make the movie? I doubt it."

The more gripping perspective would be a fictionalized account based on prevalent parenting themes in the book. But as for more specifics, Bass is keeping mum.

"I'm not going to give you the take," he says. "There will be 300 other people going, 'ya, absolutely.' "

One aspect he promises: "It wouldn't be a comedy."

Fellow producer Patrick Markey believes Chua's work "absolutely has potential" for a movie.

"There's some radical stuff here," Markey says. "To think of treating children like this. Those kids are going to be in therapy their entire lives.

"It may not be a glowing portrayal of motherhood and raising kids," he adds. "But there's certainly a hell of a lot of controversy right now."

As for middle-America being interested in the movie, Markey says, "there is a universal sense of the family that we all get. We can all learn something from this. That's why I think there is a movie here."

If Chua's team has a deal, they are keeping it under wraps.  A call to Chua's Los Angeles agent was met with a terse "no comment." And that was just the assistant. Chua's Penguin books press person had no comment as well.

One Los Angeles literary agent who specializes in bringing properties to the big screen was skeptical of any theatrical aspirations. "I just don't see it; it's not jumping off the page at me," the agent says. "If anything, there's a better chance for a television show."

While the national controversy is a plus for the screen possibilities, the agent adds that one prohibiting factor is the marketability of an Asian-American lead actress.

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