How 'The Joy Luck Club' Became the Film "Audiences Never Imagined"

The Joy Luck Club - Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock - ONE TIME USE ONLY-H 2018

'Crazy Rich Asians' director Jon M. Chu and Janet Yang, who executive produced the 1993 film, reminisce on the groundbreaking movie 25 years later.

Jon M. Chu was 13 when his parents took him and his siblings to a Sunday matinee of The ?Joy Luck Club, the first time the Bay Area family had seen households like theirs in American cinema.

"We went to dim sum afterwards and sat for three or four hours talking about the story and learning about our own parents' journey," says the son of Chinese immigrants, ?who now is at the helm of Hollywood's second attempt at putting Asian Americans on the ?big screen.

Adds the 1993 film's executive producer Janet Yang, "It felt like an anomaly, not the beginning of a trend." Only Jeffrey Katzenberg, then chairman of Walt Disney Studios, she notes, was willing to take a flier on the Amy Tan adaptation — and still, skepticism over the anonymous cast persisted. "We had uncomfortable marketing meetings, ?where the initial round of posters did not show an actual Asian face," Yang recalls. "It was one of the few times I saw [director] Wayne [Wang] lose his temper."

And there was no China market to mine in the mid-'90s, nor any consideration of how the film would play to its U.S.-based community (it grossed $33 million domestically — $57 million adjusted for inflation). "You couldn't actually market to an Asian demographic," she says. "People couldn't articulate [desire for representation] until Joy Luck Club, because they never even imagined a film like it."

This story first appeared in the Aug. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.