Thelma and Louise it is not. Nor is it as dramatic as an episode of Paris Hilton’s search for a BFF. Though she may well be interested to know that C19th China held a very special place in society for BFF’s but then again it also did with feet binding for the purposes of arranged marriages. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is the product of Wendi Murdoch who engages The Joy Luck Club‘s Director Wayne Wang to adapt the popular novel of the same name. I should be careful about what I say about this film should she feel protective about it or I might end up with a black eye from one of her now infamous right hooks. It’s pretty and sweet and thoroughly pleasant. But it’s just not for me and I dont think it will be for many people either.
So the book was something of a successful page turner I’m led to believe, the title alone has that poetic elegance and determination that would suggest a truly great screen saga. Centering on the lives of women bound for life by an astrological circumstance, they are Laotong or our closest interpretation being “soul mates”. In an age where feet binding brings the prospect of a better life, young girls are dutifully given up by their families for the purpose of attracting a better husband in the Patriachal society of 19th Hunan China. Snowflake and lily are the young girls at the heart of the novel, played with much affection by Gianna Jun and Bingbing Li respectively. Their friendship is as unqiue as a fingerprint, it’s tender, selfless and as most BFF’s know it’s addictive and irrational. As the girls become betrothed there separation is bridged by communicating in the Laotong’s own language called Nu Shu, which they carefully scribe on a fan that gets ceremoniously presented to each. The fan collects the friendship’s entire life in carefully scribed detail. Had the film stuck to the book’s intended historical context it may have had a greater chance to develop some of these nuances even further, but the power brokers have interspersed the movie with a contemporary parrallel story also played by the same women. One set in a modern day Shaghai.
Here the Laotong are hip and independent, free from the shackles of servitude to any man. They each choose distinct paths, one wayward, the other more tradtional, but their friendship is at a crossroads. Unfortunately, the movie invokes pretty much at the beginning that all too familiar, “loved one in a coma and I never told you how much I love you” device. So we spent most of the time in the hospital going back and forth buidling the necessary backstory to the now awkward english speaking besties, which to be quite frank is nothing more than telemovie stuff at best. Pensive window gazing, voiceovers and lush orchestrations, sugary stuff indeed. Whenever we find ourselves back in the past though there is real beauty. The women are delicate and loving. One scene holds their faces so close it almost reaches sensual proportions. But it’s not that film at all. Shame it could of been.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is in cinemas 4th November 2011.
Director: Wayne Wang
Stars: Bingbing Li, Gianna Jun, Vivian Wu
Runtie: 104 min
Country: China, USA