Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2011)

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Like a Breeze, Words Whisper Across Time. SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN

Feb 18, 2012
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Lovely imagery, ambitious goals, moving story.

Cons:The director did not have the strength to hold the storyline together.

The Bottom Line: Sadly, this movie fails the promise of the book.  It is enjoyable, but you have to work to get there.


Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2011) Directed by Wayne Wang

“The world is always changing. Every day it's changing. Everything in life is changing. We have to look inside ourselves to find what stays the same, such as loyalty, our shared history and love for each other. In them, the truth of the past lives on.”—Nina

This is the story of four women, bound together by the bonds of friendship, and connected across time by the writing on a white silk fan.

Our story takes place in two era’s.  Snowflower and Lily (Jun Gianna and Li Bingbing) are young girls in the last days of China before it’s great opening, back when girl’s feet were bound to make them tiny.  Sophia and Nina (Jun Gianna and Li Bingbing) are girls growing up in Shanghai, caught between their traditional culture, and the demands of the modern age.

In old China, marriage was a matter of business, of alliance, of status.  But women had the Laotung.  This was a bond between women, of mutual love and support.  It was as serious as marriage.  It attended to the women’s emotional needs…something that they may or may not get from their husbands.  Snow Flower is the daughter of a wealthy family.  Lily is common, but the Matchmaker is certain the girls are perfect for each other, born on the same day.  And she proves right.

While Snow Flower may have the advantage of birth, Lily is a pretty child, and her foot binding goes perfectly.  Thus, she is has a very prestigious marriage arranged.  Snow Flower’s family falls on hard times, and their status decreases.  Lady Lu, Lily’s mother in law does not approve of Snow Flower, but Lily will not stop the relationship.  Instead they communicate in Nu Shu a coded language, written on the tines of white silk fans, and carried back and forth by servants.  

Meanwhile, in modern times, Nina is Sophia’s Mandarin tutor.  Mrs. Laoi (Hu Qing Yun) a controlling witch, doesn’t approve of her, and banishes her from Sophia’s life.  But like the Laotung of old, they defy convention and place their friendship first.  They even sign a Laotong contract on the Tina Wey bootleg CD that got Nina banished.

Life sends all the women blessings and misfortune.  Through them all, the girls try to remain true to the spirit of the Laotung, even when that means sacrifice.

This is a beautiful movie.  Sophia discovers her ancestor Snow Flower’s fans, and curating them leads her to write a novel, detailing the two women’s lives.  The parallels to her and Nina’s lives are obvious, and haunting.  Tragedy strikes each.  And each must define their relationship in a world that is struggling to pull them apart.

It is an ambitious movie; there are elements of it that are moving and gripping.  Yet the constant movement between era’s, while serving to show the parallels between their lives, detracts somewhat from the stories pure form.  There is also a lack of tension through long stretches of the movie; as a woman’s movie, it moves with decidedly yin energy.  But film is a dynamic medium, and the lack of yang equates to a lack of drama.  Sentiment rarely replaces tension in good movie making.

The movie has many strengths; it defines the relationships of the women, and draws the parallels across time; the cultural tension today for Asian women is just as oppressive as the old days of footbinding. Sophia’s relationship with her non-Asian boyfriend (Hugh Jackman) illustrates this.  And it shows how friendship, with it’s tensions between the platonic and erotic, is a powerful coping mechanism.  It is lovely and heartwarming by turns.  But the concentration needed to seperate the pearls of wisdom from the sea of metaphor is considerable.  Perhaps a stronger director could have held the focus.  Perhaps it could have been done with more time.  But as it stands, it is a kaleidoscope of beautiful images; there are repeating patterns, and it is pretty, but you sense it is all fragments and illusion.


Recommend this product? Yes


Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older


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