YS Obsessions: Martin Yambao on ‘Joy Luck Club’

by  Young STAR Team
Art by Ross Du






I grew up a smart mouth. I was that kid who would sit on a mental Rolodex of sass, patiently waiting for the perfect moment to sprout something utterly nonsensical. My shenanigans could range from either a single affective word to a fully-rehearsed shtick — but of course, none of it was original. I mined most of my early material from movies that hit a certain demographic.

It was a few years before Clueless (see: “As if!” and “Whatever,” two things that made me sound more sophisticated than everybody else at an all-boys grade school) and long before Mean Girls (see: “Made out with a hotdog? Oh my God, that was one time!”) I weaned my affected gay persona on reruns after reruns of The Joy Luck Club on HBO. It was a 1993 adaptation of the bestselling Amy Tan novel of the same name. Focusing on Chinese-American women and their relationships with their Chinese mothers, the film was a vehicle for actress Ming Na-Wen, who, most notably, would go on to play the role of Chun-Li in Street Fighter.

Between Waverly’s national chess champion to June’s “best-quarrity” daughter, the pithy, almost cutting, Mother-Daughter dialogue (cough) was one of my early obsessions. To this day, I have all of it down to a “T” — and it’s still under regular rotation.

On household chores: “You can’t make me! This isn’t China!” This I would say to flummox my mom. On getting good grades, “Never expect! Only hope!” was an effective end to any point of discussion. On whether or not I should practice the cello after school: “You think it is so easy. One day quit, next day play. Everything for you is so easy,” I would lament in a wizened voice, to no one in particular.

Whenever my family would order Chinese takeout, I would pantomime a young Auntie Lindo’s Mother (what can I say? That movie had a hundred iconic female roles) and pretend we were in war-torn China, furtively distributing food with a pair of chopsticks. I remember my dad’s questioning “who are you?” glare as I took my sweet-ass time around the table with his beef and broccoli. One could only imagine the frenzy when we would have kangkong for dinner.

Under duress, I was one faux-pearl necklace away from slamming a porcelain bowl on the table and shrieking in a girlish lilt: “Mama!”

Between daytime hysterics at the grocery store (“I like being tragic, Ma. I learned it from you”), to theatrical board games (“I’m never going to play chess again. DO YOU HEAR ME?”), my antics were all to our shared amusement — I mean, we all had the one television. It was a tenuous mix of comedy and the right kind of melodrama.

Needless to say, I was a massive dork and my repeat viewings of The Joy Luck Club only pushed my mother to become an early adopter of the DVD. A million viewings of Troop Beverly Hills and Freaky Friday later, she rued the day she gave me access to instant rewind.

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