Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a pretty dull ride that exposes the abhorrent sexism and objectification enforced upon women in 19th century China with a very heavy hand and boatloads of expository dialogue.
The story of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan revolves around two pairs of “laotong”, which is basically a more official version of declaring a best friend forever; there’s a ceremony and everything in which you sign your name to a document declaring your connection for all eternity. One of the pairs of laotong, Lily (Bingbing Li, The Forbidden Kingdom) and Snow Flower (Gianna Jun, Blood: The Last Vampire) exist in the 1800s and council each other through the horrors of foot binding, husbands as lord and master, familial obligation, sickness, and death by passing secret messages written to each other on a series of fans. The other pair exists in modern day (played by the same actresses) and their friendship helps them endure the stressful expectations of modern society and the desire to please their families. These four women in two different eras show us that sacrifice, love, and strength are never better exemplified than in the bonds of sisterhood. I haven’t read the book by Lisa See, but the movie also shows the audience just how long two hours can feel.
I feel like this movie was put together by the wrong people. It had all of the elements to be a touching exploration of friendship and a monument to the strength of womanhood. They blew it. Between the past and the present and the way they rush through the timeline, there’s never enough time to focus on the characters and feel something. All of the scenes in the present day seem unnecessary (except for the bit part Hugh Jackman plays using his real accent) and feel inexplicably less grounded in reality than the historical half of the story. Three quarters of the film is in Chinese with English subtitles, and that’s a blessing because every time the actors switch to speaking English the acting suffers immensely. The director, Wayne Wang, had some good years in the mid-90s with The Joy Luck Club and Smoke, but then in the mid-00s he helmed things like Last Holiday and Maid in Manhattan, now with Snow Flower he seems to be trying to return to his independent roots but he’s doing so with his dial still set to mediocre.