Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a film directed by Wayne Wang, with screenplay by Angela Workman, Ronald Bass, and Michael Ray. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Lisa See. The film stars Bingbing Li (The Forbidden Kingdom), Gianna Jun (My Sassy Girl, Blood: The Last Vampire), Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Russell Wong (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor), and Archie Kao (CSI TV Series). Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a poignant tale of an eternal friendship.
After seeing Wang’s The Joy Luck Club, I began watching this film with high expectations. Although comparing the two films might be a tad bit unfair–since “Snow Flower” has significant differences in subject matter, they are, however alike in that it weaves a tale surrounding female issues that transcend tales from 19th century China to more modern times;they also both depict the complicated relationships, switching time-frames in an effort to relate one difficulty with another. There are two sets of women and histories at play in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan; four in The Joy Luck Club.
In Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, the story focuses on two women, in different time periods. Sophia (Jun) was involved in a vehicular collision after failing to reach her friend Nina (Li), rendering her in a coma. When Nina finds out that her lifelong friend is injured, she races to the hospital to be at her side. The two were separated for a time due to misunderstandings in their relationship. This is the point in the film where Nina begins to try and piece together what happened in Sophia’s life during their time apart. Rummaging through Sophia’s bags, Nina finds a man’s suit wrapped in plastic, and the draft of a book “untitled,” that Sophia was writing. As she began to read, the pages begin to tell a tale of two women in 19th century China–spiritual sisters (Lily, from a poor family; Snow Flower, from a wealthy family) who were only alike in being born on the same day to different mothers, experiencing the painful, ancient tradition of feet binding, and being forced into arranged marriages.
But before they were to begin their lives separately, as married women, they were first bound together by an ancient practice of laotong (old same or old friend) relationships as young girls. Nushu (women’s script) is then taught to the girls as a way for private communication between them. It is this ancient script, written on fans is the way these women, sworn-sisters, share information about their relationships, sorrows, and sympathies in secret to one another.
The above is the basis of the lives of these women, where the story tends to parallel or shift from the more modern times in Shanghai; to 19th century Shanghai., with both roles being played by the same women. 19th century Shanghai friends Lily (Li) and Snow Flower (Jun) are married off–Lily, to a wealthy family, and Snow Flower, to a butcher. Each with different destinies that flip on the other. While the more modern, present day descendants, Nina and Sophia, struggle to stay together through the difficulties of their careers and love lives.
In the midst of trying to align these two similar, yet different frames of time proved in-cohesive–the more interesting story between Lily and Snow Flower–was somehow lost in translation. Merging the two time periods rendered the story too complicated to follow. The film does succeed in its emotional intensity, but I would have hoped that the emphasis remained on the relationship between Lily and Snow Flower. This would have succeeded in transcending the films message of separation, loneliness, and love. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan does not equal to the emotional intensity of Wang’s The Joy Luck Club, however, the film is interesting enough for viewers to try and piece together the complicated lives of these women.
The film’s presentation on Blu-ray is beautifully rendered in its theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio/1080p. The scenes of 19th century Shanghai demonstrated extreme clarity in color and depth. During the more modern shots the tone and appeal appeared dark, and while there was no dissaturation in color, the color just didn’t look as rich and compelling as it did during the 19th century film sequences. Another thing; the white captions on the screen were easily readable. The DTS-HD master audio was fantastic. The sound resonated through the screen and presented a perfect mix of dialogue and environmental sound.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan special features include “The Sworn Sisterhood of the Secret Fan,” an approximately a 30-minute feature where the director, the book’s author,–Lisa See–and the actresses in the film discussed their opinion of the story, and what it took to bring the “book alive” on-screen. The features also included the film’s theatrical trailer, and promo trailers.
Image credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures