There is something sterile and joyless about the combination of director Wayne Wang (Smoke, Maid in Manhattan) and screenwriter Ron Bass teaming up for the first time since The Joy Luck Club back in 1993, when both were seemingly on the verge of storming the gates of Hollywood. Bass, in particular, was following up Rain Man and Sleeping with the Enemy, and Joy Luck, based on the bestselling book by Amy Tan, would surely transform him into screenwriting star in an exclusive club almost all to himself.
After the film underwhelmed, Bass settled into a solid for hire phase, whereas Wang drifted into the hazy wild, unable to crack through either into the art house niche (The Center of the World) or the mainstream (Last Holiday).
And so, as they reunite for this tale of two sets of women across two ages, linked by oaths of loyalty and fate, Bass feels a bit like Snow Flower (and her contemporary counterpart Sophia both played by Gianna Jun), the one expected to advance and possibly even break through barriers on her way to success and glory — although Wang’s arc differs from that of Nina/Lily (Bingbing Li), the strivers who end up eclipsing their bonded sisters.
The film, through the two time periods, seems to want to draw upon the epic possibility of history but instead it locks the women and the filmmakers into an airless and pedestrian resolution. Grade: C-plus
Opens Aug. 5. Check out theaters and show times, see the trailer and get theater details here.