Snow Flower And The Secret Fan


film_snowflowerWayne Wang crafts a heartfelt and respectful adaptation of the Lisa See novel, “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” giving us an absorbing glimpse into Chinese culture of 200 years ago, especially the oppression of women in society, and the intensity of female friendships. But the movie never resonates in the one place that counts—in the heart. While often slow-moving onscreen, the breathlessness with which Wang orchestrates his busy narrative (marriages, births, deaths, a Typhoid epidemic, political uprising) never gives the characters or the viewer time to stop and feel anything about them. (And dialogue like, “The rebellion is coming!” doesn’t help much, either.)

Worse, Wang and his three scriptwriters tack on a parallel story involving two women in modern Shanghai. This provides a nice showcase for lead actresses Bingbing Li and Gianna Jun, who play the protagonists in both eras, but the device only further dilutes See’s central story, introducing even more characters and conflicts that Wang is too distracted to portray convincingly. Most interesting are glimpses into the Hunan Province, ca. 1829, when two young girls are sworn to each other as “laotong”—chosen sisters, eternal companions of the heart. Together, they endure the barbaric horror of havingfilm_snowflowerfan their foot bones cracked and their feet bound and crippled into the tiny little nubs that are erotic fetish objects. Growing into womanhood, they remain steadfast to each other through all their trials—until a perceived act of betrayal separates them. But Wang doesn’t take the time to make these betrayals (there’s one in the modern story as well) even comprehensible to the audience, let alone heartbreaking or tragic. Wang manages the transitions between these two stories gracefully enough. (A nice counterpoint is provided at a modern museum exhibit of foot binding, featuring teeny shoes.) But an artifact in the possession of one of the modern women suggesting she’s related to one of the historical characters is an idea that’s never developed. And poor Hugh Jackman has never been used less effectively, in a thankless cameo as an Australian entrepreneur in modern Shanghai. It’s too bad Wang clutters up the screen with all this extra material instead of sticking to the point and telling one story well. (PG-13) 100 minutes. (★★1/2)—LJ. Watch film trailer >>>

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