Projections - Movie Reviews
With Jim Sabatini


Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Starring:
Gianna Ju and Li Bing Bing


Rated: PG-13  
Reviewed by: Jim  
Release date: July 15, 2011 Released by: Fox Searchlight Pictures

This new ambitious, lushly mounted melodrama is empowered by the timeless quality of female bonding from a modern vantage point. Its primary viewership will be those engrossed by the popular historical novel-of-the-same-name by Lisa See.
 
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan switches between 19th Century China and in a current Shanghai and stars Gianna Ju and Li Bing Bing.
 
Interwoven parallel tales are juxtaposed as both familial isolated 7-year-old girls Snow Flower and Lily are bound together for "eternity" in an "old sames" or "laotong" pairing. Nu shu is the language they use to communicate with one another within a white silk fan's folds.
 
Descendants of the laotong, Nina (Li Bing Bing) and Sophia (Gianna Jun) are in a bustling, unpredictably thriving Shanghai trying to hold on to the vitality of a friendship since childhood. Of course, the drive of personal and professional lives course can work against such an intimate goal.
 
The goal of director Wayne Wang and his scribes who include Ron Bass is to locate the uplift and turbulence felt through ancestry. It just isn't modulated with the same rewards as some of its stunning production values, particular in the lensing department. Think of Memoirs of a Geisha but more maladroit on a narrative and character level.
 
Obviously, Snow Flower is in the same vein as Wang's very commercial 1993 hit The Joy Luck Club put in the context of societal change of what being a woman entails. Yet, for its more manageable running time, a modestly scaled venture might have more trenchantly rendered the focus of the everlasting notion of friendship, love and hope in all of their manifestations.

In what is not the sum of its occasional interesting parts, the stories diligently underline the complications and harrowing conditions for Snow Flower/Sophia and Lily/Nina. Some may be familiar with societal rigidity like arranged marriages and being very sheltered, but not as much with the practice of foot-binding, a female ritual.
 
As in others of its its flash-backing ilk with strong female characters like a lesser remembered How To Make An American Quilt or a more vivid Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, the 19th-Century passages have more resonance to them. The women in Nina and Sophia have to rely on a clandestine, shared past to strengthen a fragile bond, not helped by one falling in a coma.
 
For more regular cineastes, Russell Wong appears as a Bank CEO and in limited time Vivian Wu as an Aunt and Hugh Jackman as a romantic interest. For all that Wang and his writers densely examine with line readings (some phonetic) lacking a certain fluency one wished that this "Fan" could have been more distinctive and less bound in touching the joys, sacrifices and secrets of women generations apart.

  Frank Chris Jim Nina Sam Howard Jennifer Kathleen  Avg. 
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan        C                  C 

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