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A film about laotong, the bonding of two women for eternity as kindred
sisters, is unusual to say the least and one that is beautifully retold
in the manner of so many oriental stories must be a rarity. The reason
it works so well is because it is shot at two layers, one in the
present day, and the other at a time when women needed each other for
support. In fact the retelling of the latter is the result of a book
written by Sophia of the life of Snow Flower in the title. In each
layer Sophia/Snow Flower is bonded to Nina/Lily. The acting by Gianna
Jun (Sophia/Snow Flower) and Bingbing Li as Nina/Lily is extraordinary
with sterling support from an excellent cast. The cinematography and
soundtrack are also first rate.
In essence the story explores love in many guises via the relationship of the two present day characters and their mirrors of old, but it is only at the conclusion of the film that we are allowed to be inside the minds of the kindred sisters and their relationship. This is not a film that pivots upon romantic love since it delves very deep into the agendas the women have and for that reason alone it may not be a commercial success. That shouldn't detract from its beauty as a work of art but clearly it has had an effect on the film's popularity on IMDb. And that is a shame because it is well worth lasting all of its one hundred and four minutes including the beautiful wash drawings displayed with the final credits.
I don't know how this film manages less than six on the ratings for I feel a little mean in only giving it eight because of the material it explores. It is worthy of a visit to cinema, or even ownership of a DVD. Oriental cinema has made another worthy addition to its growing list of excellent stories turned into film.
The current scandal surrounding Rupert Murdoch makes it all the more
surprising that his wife produced Wayne Wang's "Snow Flower and the
Secret Fan". But even so, it's still worth seeing. It tells the story
of two friends in present-day Shanghai, and the connection that they
have with two girls in 19th century China through a fan on which they
wrote secret messages.
Wang famously focused on Chinese-American families in "The Joy Luck Club", and took a bittersweet look at people's lives in "Smoke". This movie doesn't equal either of those, but I still recommend it. The development of Shanghai certainly reflects the changes in the lives of the girls (and the changes that China has undergone over the past 100 years). Not great, but worth seeing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The film weaves together two stories, one in modern China and one in
Chinese antiquity. In each, two women raised together form strong
friendships and pledge themselves to always support each other. As time
passes these relationships are tested by tradition, marriage, love and
In Chinese antiquity, some women ("laotang", or "secret sisters") would communicate by writing on the folds of fans in an obscure language, nu shu (literally, "woman's writing"). In "Snow Flower" most of their missives are poems, Listen for the poetry: you won't understand the language (almost no one, including native Chinese, can) but the rhyme, meter and sounds of the poetry enhance the narrative.
The older story also describes the binding of young girls' feet. This painful and crippling practice and other difficulties of life bind the women in these stories: mother to daughter, secret sister to secret sister, and friend to friend.
Excellent acting, beautiful music, architectural cinematography of the first order and a pace that allows you to catch the many fine details of these stories make this film an exquisite experience. I already want to watch it again.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a film based on the novel by Lisa
See. It stars Gianna Jun and Li Bingbing together with Archie Kao,
Vivian Wu, and Hugh Jackman.Wayne Wang directed this feature about
The screenplay is set on two historical periods.One is during the 19th century in China wherein two girls,Snow Flower and Lily, are bonded together for eternity.They were paired by a matchmaker as "laotong". They are isolated by their families and they try to maintain their relationship by communicating through a secret language known as Nu shu. They support each other through the ups and downs of their village, dealing with harrowing traditions like foot-binding and arranged marriages.
The other story is set at present day Shanghai.Their descendants are Sophia Liao and Nina Wei.Both are struggling with their own childhood.During their teen-age years,they were introduced on the concept of "laotong".They maintained their special bond all throughout the years but struggled with their friendship due to their careers,love lives and modern society .Then both got into an argument that resulted into a temporary separation but they eventually got reunited when Sophia got into an accident.Nina reads the unpublished manuscript she wrote when she got into the hospital and she tries to understand the story written in it which is based on the lessons of their past generation particularly with their ancestral connection of Snow Flower and Lily.
This was a well-shot film.The cinematography was definitely great.But unfortunately,Gianna Jun and Li Bingbing weren't able to generate interest on the characters that they are portraying both in the 19th century China and modern day Shanghai.It is not their fault since are talented actresses particularly Gianna Jun whom I have loved and admired in movies like My Sassy Girl,Daisy and A Man Who Want To Be Superman.Part of the reason is that the progression of the story is on a very slow pace and emotionally inert to capture one's interest.Even Hugh Jackman's singing in Chinese couldn't even lift it as both lead characters aren't given enough to capture the viewer's attention.Added to that,the mix of multiple languages served as a distraction the shift from Chinese to English and vice-versa despite the fact that it adds realism to the story.Finally,I felt that it wasn't really able to emphasize the message that it tries convey that that old traditions does work in modern times as it became very predictable and often times melodramatic especially in telling the story of female friendship and the people around them.Too bad that this beautiful story told by Lisa See could have had a better film adaptation.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a "Chick Flick" and is best enjoyed by those 8 and older who know what it is to be a friend. This is a story of sisterhood which withstands the test of time itself. The musical score is quite nice and relaxing. It is a good movie to watch in the afternoon, alone or with your BFF. The movie is a bit too long, maybe 20 minutes could have been edited out. Switching back and forth through time is done okay. The movie requires a glass or two of wine and some pizza. Guys, don't bother with this film unless you want to impress your significant other. It is a slow pace film telling a love story between sisters of a sort. You won't easily forget this film overnight like many other films because it touches the heart.
There are a few reasons why I decided to watch Snow Flower and the
Secret Fan, and for starters it's an international film directed by
Wayne Wang for a story set in both Old and Modern day China, with leads
from Taiwan, Korea and Australia speaking in two languages and playing
two characters from different timelines, exploring a strong friendship
that existed and was sustained through secret letter exchange like
penpals. While production values are strong in recreating an era
already bygone, and not painting modern day Shanghai in too romantic
overtones, the film somehow lacked a certain punch to really ring home
its emotions, resulting in a rather featherweight film that turned out
to be average despite its production arsenal.
Which is a pity since it's directed by Wayne Wang, based upon the novel by Lisa Lee, which tells of the friendship between Nina (Li Bingbing) and her good friend Sophia (Gianna Jun) who have both drifted apart, from their firm friendship forged since their teenage years, by the time we meet them in modern day Shanghai, with the former scheduled to go to New York to head a bank branch courtesy of an opportunity given by her CEO (Russell Wong), and the latter scheduled to go down south to Australia to follow her boyfriend Arthur (Hugh Jackman), a pub owner operating a chain in China. An accident befalls Sophia and in her state of unconsciousness, Nina begins to read up on Sophia's titular work, which is in a way is based on her ancestor, and in uncanny terms also seemed to mirror the relationship of Nina and Sophia.
So we flash back to 19th century China, where girls of various classes are subjected to bound feet - an excruciating process to keep one's feet under 3 inches in length, a symbol of female perfection that involves the crushing of bones and blister formation no thanks to tight cloth binding all toes tightly into the foot, and in a way force a very dainty sashay each time the woman has to walk, assisted most of the time. The so-called Three Inch Golden Lotus foot is much sought after by noblemen with foot fetishes, which means an automatic ticket out of poverty, a passport to a good life, but not always. Snow Flower (Gianna Jun again) and Lily (Li Bingbing in her second role) are born to different families of opposite fortunes, and being brought up by a matchmaker who made them "laotong", or a sworn sister equivalent, we see their different fortunes when they get matchmade off to different husbands, with Lily having the advantage for bearing the perfect feet.
It's a story about these strong, sisterhood bonds and their secret communication with each other through secret messages written in the Xu Nu script, which involves rhyming couplets, and are thought to girls who are brought up under this system, where they will have a sister and companion for life. In the olden days this seemed more like a lifelong support system where the girls would frequently visit each other and be each other's confidante, and the significance of these bonds were to be replicated by the modern girls of Nina and Sophia. On one hand the modern girls' take on this seemed to be more of a one-upmanship against the other in who loves (with slight lesbian undertones) who more, only for them to realize that it's about being in for the long haul, and that living up to those laotong vows isn't easy, with intentions easily misinterpreted, especially when it's deemed one party is taking pity on the other, be it work opportunities, romance or material wealth.
Wayne Wang lays the narrative out in a very flat structure, almost linear too despite the jumps back in time, since the events occurring in parallels between the two timelines cannot be more pronounced, akin to a story within a story within a story in its plot development. While it had the promise of exploring the ritual of feet binding, this is unfortunately not that film, with that behaviour being little more than a plot device rather than a potent plot point examining that ritual in more detail. And it does seem that the actresses were most of the time finding themselves balancing in extremely high heels to give the illusion of bound feet through their wobbly walk, and sometimes you may catch a moment or two when a heel gets spotted.
But what seemed more of a challenge, was the requirement to speak two languages. Li Bingbing was the best amongst the rest, being equally comfortable in English as she is in Mandarin. The decision to cast Gianna Jun is a mystery, since her character requires her to speak in English, which she does OK in, but Mandarin? Only the simple phrases were fine, but the out-of-sync mouth movement when lines of dialogue got more complex only seemed to irritate when someone else dubbed over her lines which I'm not surprised is spoken in English, or Korean even. Hugh Jackman too wanted to get into the act, and found himself singing an English version of a Chinese song, before belting it out in Mandarin himself, which got worst by each line of lyrics, but you do have to give the man full marks for effort, and not being embarrassed in severely butchering the language.
Still, this is a Wayne Wang film, and that should warrant a watch even if the story is quite ordinary and didn't do a deep dive, but boasting a cast that you'll probably won't see being combined in the same film anytime again soon.
The book explores the culture of 19th century China through a woman's
eyes; in the book you see real relationships and heartbreak. The movie
squanders all of that in favor of appearing "artistic" or "deep";
something it does not pull off at all.
They unnecessarily add some modern characters to "parallel" the girls from the book. Said modern characters randomly switch between speaking Chinese and English, adding to the overall confusion and mess of the movie. The movie constantly switches back and forth from the modern to the actual book story line, making it extremely hard to follow, even for someone who has read the book. This also means that you make no real attachment to any of the characters. They change lines around and only include scenes of "significance" from the book- making it all completely insignificant. You get no sense of the deep-heart love they speak of. You barely see the characters at all.
Overall, it is essentially two hours of thinking, "Is the movie going to start yet?"
A real waste of an amazing book.
In 1820s China, two young girls are committed to a tradition to be
Sisters-for-Life. In modern day Shanghai, two teenage girls sign a
contract to be Sisters-for-Life. This is a Chinese tradition known as
Laotong. We would be more familiar with this as BFF, but a very, very
This was, I believe, our first introduction to Laotong.
We watch two stories unfold in the different time periods whereby the girls follow this tradition. To make things easier for us, each actress plays a character in both time periods. Gianna Jun plays Snowflower and Sophia, and Bingbing Li plays Nina and Lily. See?
Nothing of a sexual nature is shown in this deep love between these Sisters-for-Life. The movie could have gone there, but didn't, and we do not know if Laotong encompasses this. There seemed to be a deep caring for good things to happen in the life of each sister. That seemed to be the overriding aspect to the relationship. And, when one sister sees things not going well for the other sister, that watchful sister is torn both physically and mentally. Told you this was a deep love, didn't I?
The relationship doesn't change although each girl marries in the 1820s. The bond is still there and strong for Sophia and Lily in the present day although some wrinkles (read misunderstandings) appear. Some wrinkles also showed up in the 1820s with Snowflower and Nina; and the fan was used to communicate with each other.
A bicycle accident starts all this and Sophia is laid up in a hospital. Sophia had been writing a book about Laotong with her characters Snowflower and Nina back in the 1820s. Lily visits Sophia and finds and reads the pages to the book and that is how we go back to the 1820s with Snowflower and Nina.
This is extremely well done and the chemistry between the Sisters-for-Life in both time periods is excellent, intense and quite touching. There is a good mix of sub-titles and spoken English and the sub-titles are short and easy to read.
Hugh Jackman is good, and was probably only included to get the X-Men crowd. But, seriously, his name was the only one most could identify with to get people into the theaters or rent the DVD.
This is slow moving as you would expect, well acted by all and the cinematography was very good. And, since we do not know all the ramifications of Laotong we must accept the dialogues as presented.
If you decide to see this movie, bring a couple boxes of Kleenix with you. They will be needed.
Violence: Yes. Sex: Yes, Nina watches Snowflower and her husband thru loose boards in the floor,
but you only see the husband's back, and it only lasts a few seconds. Nudity: No. Language: No.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
From seeing the preview of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan you'd think
this would be a great film about friendship and the power of it lasting for ages but sadly it isn't.
Here's the positive
Rachel Portman delivers an Outstanding music score which is full of emotion I'm disappointed it didn't get any nods for this or the costumes either.
The two leads try their best to act in this film but alas all we get
is scenes of BingBing Lee looking out the window seeing parts of ancient culture blending in with modern day.
Fans of the book should stay away.From what I've heard this movie is nothing like the book.However if your interested then go rent it.
My Chinese friend told me during the movie that he's never heard of laotong he told me it means "old saying". Maybe this was something they did in the southern part of China that he didn't know about.
There were scenes that were just confusing where it looked like Lily was into Snow Flower.
The scene when they were young and there feet binded/wrapped up to make their feet smaller and stand up and walk around. My friend pointed out again that they would be in extreme pain and might not walk for days.
I wonder what the author thinks of the movie?
Watched this movie on home CD. Would loved to have seen it on the big
This was a beautiful movie, but since most was spoken Chinese and for some odd reason the copy we watched from home had no sub-titles during the majority of the spoken word, which was Chinese, we had to guess at what was going on.
The movie is clear enough to figure things out and some English is spoken, but I would loved to have known what was being said during the Chinese spoken portions.
Overall, a lovely story of how close friendships are important. It also showed how people will find a way to connect, even when forbidden to do so.
I was also interesting to see how Chinese culture represses women.
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