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Section Header
The Joy Luck Club
Composed, Co-Orchestrated, and Produced by:
Rachel Portman

Co-Orchestrated by:
John Neufeld

Conducted by:
J.A.C. Redford

Chinese Instruments Performed by
Masakazu Yoshizawa
Chris Fu
Shufeng He
Karen Hua-Qi Han
Jim Walker

Hollywood Records

Release Date:
September 28th, 1993

Also See:
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Used People
Only You

Audio Clips:
2. Escape from Guilin (0:29):
WMA (191K)  MP3 (235K)
Real Audio (146K)

6. June Meets Her Twin Sisters (0:30):
WMA (197K)  MP3 (243K)
Real Audio (151K)

9. Most Important Sacrifice (0:31):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (251K)
Real Audio (156K)

15. End Titles (0:34):
WMA (222K)  MP3 (277K)
Real Audio (172K)

Regular U.S. release.


The Joy Luck Club

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Sales Rank: 33261

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Buy it... if you consistently enjoy Rachel Portman's base orchestral style and wish to hear it expressed with a distinct Chinese flavor not heard in the other scores of her early era.

Avoid it... if the static, monothematic style of Portman's dramatic work is too similar in any instrumentation or performance for you to distinguish its better variants as noteworthy.

The Joy Luck Club: (Rachel Portman) Vaulting to great heights immediately after its release, Amy Tan's best-selling 1989 novel was destined for similar success upon its adaptation to the arthouse film industry. With extraordinary care given to the authenticity of the Chinese culture depicted, The Joy Luck Club is, on the surface, a heart-warming tale of a group of Chinese-American women in San Francisco who congregate once a week and play mah jong. These gatherings, though, are an opportunity for their children and grandchildren, as well as the audience, to hear fascinating stories about the histories of their families. In flashbacks, their lifestyles in China come alive and awaken the audience to the intricate social structures of the nation and how those lifestyles have evolved in America. It is a film of substantial heart that is saturated with the expected women's issues, and thus, it wasn't surprising to see director Wayne Wang bring British composer Rachel Portman into this delicate process. At the time of the film's release in 1993, Portman was not yet recognized internationally as a foremost female composer, with only a substantial amount of British television scoring and a handful of independent films representing her known credits. When you look back at her involvement in a project as beautifully rendered and well-mannered as The Joy Luck Club, though, the fit seems absolutely perfect. When the film was released to critical success, Portman went through an immediate phase of being discovered by Hollywood, a process that would be affirmed the following year with the arrival of her most quoted work of the decade, Only You. It has been speculated that only her relative anonymity in 1993 (along with a strong field of competition) kept her from receiving her first Academy Award nomination that year. Nevertheless, listeners noticed and identified with her fluid, sensitive style for The Joy Luck Club, a score that would establish her very consistent, monothematic tendencies while also utilizing authentic Chinese instruments in such a way that Portman fans would not hear joined with her style for nearly two decades. Her 2011 follow-up for the less acclaimed Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a sentimental reminder of The Joy Luck Club in many ways, but it lacks the same consistently tender embrace.

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In the sense that Portman's music for lovable character stories all begins to sound alike after the third cue of each score, The Joy Luck Club is really no different. As film music enthusiasts, you either fall in love with it or you don't. The tone of The Joy Luck Club is accessibly pleasant, the emotions are subtle, and the composer's themes have a lasting touch of bittersweet sadness. This score marked the initiation of the deep, orchestral romantic style (not in a lurid, Hollywood sort of way, but rather in a culturally sensitive and familial fashion) heard especially in the structurally simple themes for layered strings with which Portman would grace her subsequent scores. Outside of the primary title passages, the latter half of "June Meets Her Twin Sisters" contains a substantial preview of this technique. While the overall style and primary theme is consistent with her later scores, there are a few differences between The Joy Luck Club and Portman's other works that, for some listeners, makes this score a superior listen. First, the use of an erhu and other traditional Chinese instruments is a departure for the composer, whose orchestral ensembles are typically unvaried. The erhu in particular meshes well with Portman's thematic sensibilities, fitting in as yet another variation of a string tone in her normal string-dominated atmosphere. Also of note in The Joy Luck Club is the solo trumpet, something that Portman uses sparingly in her scores but is often warmly embraced as another welcome variation from her norm (its placement, for instance, in The Legend of Bagger Vance is a memorable enhancement). A solo flute provides additional flavor in several cues. Unlike some of Portman's scores, there are no truly outstanding cues in The Joy Luck Club that stand out when compared to other singular achievements in her career. The single theme and several secondary motifs are nothing very refreshing to hear from the composer in terms of unique progressions, but the consistency of the slightly elevated orchestral presence, along with the solos, is what distinguishes The Joy Luck Club. Never spectacular, it is always better than average, and the album exists as a perfectly rounded presentation of 45 minutes of music that never becomes too repetitive to enjoy. Many listeners hold this score dear to their hearts because it was their first Portman experience, a sound very new at the time, and when placed in context with the film, the music is still a tremendous accomplishment to this day. **** Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For Rachel Portman reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.26 (in 28 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.21 (in 25,684 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 3.42 Stars
Smart Average: 3.32 Stars*
***** 59 
**** 43 
*** 36 
** 23 
* 29 
  (View results for all titles)
    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.
   Highly emotional
  Sheridan -- 12/9/06 (3:02 p.m.)
   Joy Luck Club
  Greg -- 11/29/05 (9:24 p.m.)
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 44:01

• 1. The Story of the Swan (2:30)
• 2. Escape from Guilin (5:35)
• 3. Lindo's Story (1:50)
• 4. Best Quality Heart (2:27)
• 5. Upturned Chairs (1:58)
• 6. June Meets Her Twin Sisters (2:58)
• 7. His Little Spirit Had Flown Away (4:33)
• 8. An-Mei's Mother Returns (1:50)
• 9. Most Important Sacrifice (2:44)
• 10. Tiger in the Trees (3:23)
• 11. Lindo's Last Night (3:32)
• 12. The Babies (3:57)
• 13. An-Mei's New Home (2:38)
• 14. Swan Feather (0:51)
• 15. End Titles (3:15)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes no extra information about the score or film.

  All artwork and sound clips from The Joy Luck Club are Copyright © 1993, Hollywood Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 4/23/04 and last updated 10/5/11. Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2004-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.