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'Joy Luck': A New Challenge in Disney's World : Movies: In a marked difference from the studio's normal high-concept fare, Disney must market the story of two generations of Chinese women. It opens Sept. 8.

August 31, 1993|ELAINE DUTKA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"We knew the film triggers core emotions and goes for the jugular, but you never know how thick someone's armor is," Yang says. "I heard an awful lot of sniffling in the room from the all-male Disney contingent."

Disney plans a marketing campaign that will stress "emotion" over plot, "universality" over the Chinese subject matter. Taking advantage of what it expects will be good reviews and positive word of mouth, Disney will "roll out" the movie slowly--opening in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, and expanding slightly each week for a total of several hundred theaters by early October. The film, screened to an enthusiastic Asian-American Journalists Assn. two weeks ago, will be shown at the Telluride Film Festival over the Labor Day Weekend and at the Toronto Film Festival in mid-September. An unexpected "R" rating from the MPAA ratings board (for a few curse words and an act of violence to a child) won't make Disney's job any easier, but the studio has opted not to fight the decision.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 1, 1993 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 6 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
"Joy Luck Club"-- In some editions of Monday's Calendar, a story about the making and marketing of Disney's "The Joy Luck Club" mistakenly attributed two quotes that were highlighted. Both quotes were said by Janet Yang, Ixtlan vice president of production. In addition, the full title of Oliver Stone's upcoming picture is "Heaven and Earth."

"Intellectually, I understand it, but emotionally it's difficult," admits Dick Cook, President of Buena Vista Pictures Distribution. "Still, we decided that we probably won't feel it. This is clearly an 'adult' film and the rating will hopefully be overshadowed by things people say and write. Besides, our 'Dead Poets Society,' 'Good Morning, Vietnam,' and 'Pretty Woman' were all rated R--and each took in over $100 million domestically."

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Last Saturday night, actress Annette Bening ("Bugsy")--an avid fan of the film--hosted an industry screening of the movie in Westwood followed by a reception at the Armand Hammer Museum. The massive national TV advertising campaign that generally proceeds the release of a movie won't kick in until late September.

"We've lectured ourselves on the fact that (the process) will take patience," Buena Vista's Levin says. "But we're encouraged by the fact that Disney has had considerable success with other 'female-oriented' movies such as 'Beaches' and 'Green Card.' Even if I fail as a marketer, the studio can't lose on this movie. 'Joy Luck Club' is a wonderful picture coming out of an unexpected place. That can only help us on the heels of a summer in which the range of our films wasn't perceived to be great."

On a broader scale, says Yang, the movie is a milestone for Asian-Americans. "Because there are so few Asian images--Suzie Wong, the person at the laundry or the Chinese restaurant--the movie has a historic feeling about it," she says. "This is the first time that a picture coming out of Hollywood has presented such a large company of Asian women playing non-stereotypical roles. And, though Americans have trouble telling Asian faces apart, we were relieved that the strong characterizations made for very little confusion."

Wang, meanwhile, is reuniting with Tan and Bass to adapt Tan's best-selling "The Kitchen God's Wife." Though Disney is interested, it remains to be seen if the studio will spring for the budget, which is expected to be higher than "Joy Luck." Another potential project for Wang is "Smoke," based on Paul Auster's offbeat Christmas story. It would be a move away from the Chinese-American subject matter he once vowed to eschew . . . though Tan, the director adds with a smile, has promised to write another novel for him.

"It's all about 'balance,' " concludes Wang, who, a few weeks ago, opened up a fortune cookie forecasting "money and luck will come to you." "It's the yin and the yang. After 'Joy Luck Club,' I should probably get Quentin Tarantino to write me a men's film."

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