Let me begin by saying I have not read Lisa See's book upon which this film is based, hence I'm not in the category of other reviewers who disliked this movie primarily because of its deviation from the novel. Translating a work of art from one medium to another is a difficult task at the very least and it comes as no surprise to discover that a person who loves something in one medium is seldom pleased with its appearance in another. Personally I think a film should be judged solely on its own merits, like it or dislike it for what it is, not for what you thought or hoped it would be.
Having said that I would like to convey how much I loved this film. Director Wayne Wang instilled `Snow Flower and the Secret Fan' with the same depth of emotion and sensitivity that made his `Joy Luck Club' such a moving and memorable viewing experience.
The storyline moves neatly back and forth between two sets of Chinese women living in different times (Lily and Snow Flower in 1829 China, Nina and Sophia in present day Shanghai). Though time and place differ, the shared cultural and spiritual bonds formed by their mutual `vows of sisterhood' are identical and timeless. Bingbing Li plays the parts of both Lily and Nina and Gianna Jun the dual roles of Snow Flower and Sophia. Both story lines are engaging but clearly the Snow Flower and Lily tale is the more important of the two. Nevertheless the present day friendship between Nina and Sophia is essential to the intent of the film, providing not only context to the earlier friendship but a cultural bridge between past, present and future. In other words, while everything around us is constantly changing what's really important in life remains the same.
I strongly recommend this film; the storyline, dialogue, soundtrack, visuals and cast all make for a well spent evening of viewing entertainment. The only warning I would level is to say that this is, like `Joy Luck Club' a chick flick so gentlemen view at your own risk.
Having read and loved Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle), I was looking forward to watching the movie adaptation. I missed the theatrical run, and so waited patiently for it come out on DVD. Unfortunately, this is a terrible adaptation of a heartbreakingly beautiful work, taking too many artistic liberties, and butchering the story in such a manner as to render it incomprehensible to those who read and loved the book. If you watch this movie without having read the book, then it might appeal on some level, but to those who savored the detailed descriptions of traditions in 19th century China, and the close bond between the two central characters, i.e. Snow Flower and Lily, this movie seems such an aberration and I truly felt let down.
The movie takes a different approach than the novel in that it has two parallel story lines - one set in the present featuring two young women who are kindred spirits, but whose friendship is eventually strained by conflicting ideas regarding relationships, lifestyle, etc. On the same day that she receives news that she has a job opportunity in New York, Nina (Li BingBing) receives news that her estranged best friend, Sophia (Gianna Jun) has been in an accident and is in hospital. As Nina goes through Sophia's things at the hospital, she comes across a manuscript, parts of a story of two women in 19th century China, whose friendship mirror Nina and Sophia's own close bond.
The trouble is that this parallel storyline does not work - by dividing the story up into two disparate timelines, not much time is spent in developing the central characters. The most affected here is the story in the present - viewers are given brief glimpses of Nina and Sophia bonding over music etc. but their friendship is meant to be an unbreakable bond and this is not credibly portrayed. The story of the two laotongs or "old sames" (sort of like sisters of the heart) set in 19th century China is much more credibly portrayed, ironically played by the same actresses playing the parts of Nina and Sophia in the present.
Lily and Snow Flower are the laotongs, coming from two very different social classes. The poorer of the two, Lily, has her feet bound to perfection under the supervision of a zealous mother. The scenes of foot binding are rather uncomfortable to watch, but they are nowhere near as gruesome as the graphic descriptions provided by Ms. See in her novel. Lily's perfect lotus bud feet eventually garner her a very advantageous marriage, but poor Snow Flower ends up being married off to a butcher despite her rich beginnings.
In the novel, readers are given a deep insight into the secret language of women, i.e. nushu which provides an intimate glimpse into the lives of women in 19th century China (historically nushu was the language used by the women of the Yao ethnic minority). Reading between the lines, readers get the idea that it is Snow Flower who has a more interesting sex life than Lily, but in the movie, viewers get a brief glimpse of this, not through nushu, but of Lily playing peeping tom. It just completely put me off - such short cuts when it was completely unnecessary, not to mention detracting from the very essence of the novel.
Then there's the disaster in the form of Aussie actor Hugh Jackman (it begs the question, why did he stoop to such a role in the first place?). Any actor could have played his role, but I guess the filmmakers thought they could get the movie more exposure with a star presence? Jackman plays Sophia's on-off lover and his most 'memorable' scene here is him serenading Sophia at a party and indulging in some serious liplocking. Sigh...need I continue?
Final verdict - fans of the novel should steer away from this disaster of an adaptation, and those who haven't read the book will probably not miss much, though I'd recommend the book over the movie anytime.
on July 4, 2012
Whoa, I'm a little suprised at all the hate for the movie here. This was one of the first times in a long time that I just watched a movie without looking up reviews first, a good choice I see now.
I read and completely loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, so I went into this movie with some expectations. Knowing this is a movie, however, I was ready for the artistic license. I was a little confused by the modern setting, but hey, let's get past the first 10 minutes before I start judging.
I actually liked that they paralleled the two stories of the women, modern and past. I suppose if you hadn't read the book the film would seem jumpy, so I see this as a visual supplement to the book in some ways. I can see where others may get confused with the relationship between Snow Flower and Lily (friends? Lovers?) but this is from a different era. They didn't enter the relationship that way and it is not described that way at all. They were each others comfort and in so many ways soul mates, but they were not sexual...
Anywho, read the book, enjoy it. Watch the movie...realize it is NOT the book verbatim, enjoy it too. It's not a travesty of an adaptation, it's an interesting, tear jerking, new take on a wonderful story.
My wife, 12-yr old daughter, 21-yr old daughter and I just watched this film. My wife and older daughter read the book and both proclaimed it "fantastic." When we watched the movie they both mentioned that it was not like the book in many ways. This does not mean, however, that it's a bad movie. On the contrary, I found it to be both compelling and worthy.
I was particularly interested in watching this movie because I have lived in the orient and I was eager to see how it would be depicted. There is something that most Americans do not understand, and that is that oriental cultures have histories and deep-seated traditions that Americans have a difficult time imagining. This movie is about one such custom - a custom where young women bind themselves to one another in a life-long mutually supportive relationship.
These relationships were vital to the happiness of many Chinese women, especially those of higher social status. Marriage for them was almost always a matter of an arrangement for social status, wealth, alliances between families, etc. They were seldom marriages of love, at least initially. The primary role of women in that society was to provide their husbands with social status and sons. Since this is the case, women of status relied heavily on female-female relationships for emotional support.
This film depicts this sort of relationship, and involved three interwoven story lines - one set in early 1800s China, one set in modern Shanghai, and one set about a decade or so earlier than today.
As you watch the film you will see parallels between the story lines, and the same two women play the main characters in all three story lines. I found that to be a memorable part of the film.
I found the cinematography, the acting, and the story lines to be compelling and meaningful. The flow of the movie would be seen by some viewers as plodding, but I found the pacing to be extremely appropriate for the story being told. I thought that the settings of the stories, the relationships portrayed, and the overall experience were memorable.
I am extremely glad I watched this film, and I would be happy to watch it again.
If you are looking for gunplay, explosions, and lots of special effects...keep walking. If, however, you are looking for a meaningful story, a piece of historical fiction, and a memorable experience, then this film may be for you.
5 stars! Thanks for the story!
on July 10, 2013
This is a beautiful film, and not at all difficult to follow; the changes in hair styles and clothes (those in the past are gorgeous) are sufficient to immediately communicate whether the scene is past or present. And that it is said to be two "parallel" stories is an overstatement, and perhaps even something of a misperception: if one watches closely one sees it is actually one story, and told chronologically; it almost doesn't matter which scenes are past, and which present. This is made clear in the final scene: there is change in everything -- except for the deep-hearted love of "laotong" sisters; that never changes.
Wayne Wang is a "genre"-hopping director with an unusual catalog. It includes such films as "Chan is Missing," the fascinating "tour" of San Francisco's Chinatown; the fully American/Hollywood "Maid in Manhattan," with Jennifer Lopez, and a film with Queen Latifah; and "Chinese-American" films, "Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart," "A Bowl of Tea," and "The Princess of Nebraska". (There is useful, illuminating interview with him in the documentary "Hollywood Chinese," not to my knowledge available via Amazon, it is available from an independent distribution site. Well worth the price.)
The only other film in which I've seen Li Bingbing is "The Message," a good film in which she is very good (also includes the wonderful Zhou Xun). In this she is excellent (and essentially has the lead role). Also notable in a smaller role is Vivian Wu (excellent in "The Soong Sisters," though the film is stolen from her and Michelle Yeoh by a phenomenal Maggie Cheung.)
A moving film, powerfully emotional, almost from the very beginning. And it is not a "chick flick" for men who are fascinated with and appreciative of mother-daughter relationships (Wang's "Joy Luck Club"), and (especially) sister-sister relationships (regardless whether the sisters are "blood" sisters). Or for anyone who appreciates unique historical storytelling, with an Asian/Chinese philosophical "core," and excellent writing, acting, and cinematography.
Recommended for those who would make up their own minds instead of relying on the misleading negative reviews. But be certain to watch the extra, "The Sworn Sisterhood of the Secret Fan," before watching the film, as it includes important backstory.
on June 5, 2013
It was a bitter sweet movie about female friendship in China of old. Apparently only another woman can understand a woman because marriage's purpose is only making male babies and taking care of the husband. The foot binding scenes are a little disturbing and not historically accurate since foot binding was done at a much earlier age. It has some tearful moments and some good cultural learning if that's what you seek.
on June 27, 2012
Let me start by saying that I haven't read the book, and no, it's still not a good movie. I am from China, and I happened to have received a university grant to study Nu Shu in Hunan Province over ten years ago with one of my best friends at the time - it was sort of our "laotong" experience, though we have since grown apart but that's another story. Just like "Joy Luck Club," this movie is made for non-Chinese viewers and has little to no authenticity and the characters were based so much on stereotypes. When I studied Nu Shu at the time, there was only one and a half people alive that could write Nu Shu - one woman and a male scholar who counted as a half person because Nu Shu was invented by and for women. So there is NO WAY that in modern days two high school girls could be writing notes back and forth in Nu Shu in Shanghai! And what is that aunt person who supposedly knew so much about Nu Shu and had the girls formalize a contract??? No, average people in modern Shanghai don't know anything about Nu Shu or laotong - it's something that is much more well-known outside China unfortunately.
Also, a note to the creators of the movie - CHINESE PEOPLE DON'T SPEAK ENGLISH TO EACH OTHER! Yes, Li Bingbing, who played one of the main leads, spoke English in that Jet Li and Jackie Chan movie "The Forbidden Kingdom", but that movie was at least set in America to begin with and has an American lead, so it's kind of understandable. But honestly I was thinking "WTF?" when the nurse called to tell about the accident in English. China is not India - we weren't colonized so that English became the official language. Some authenticity of Chinese people speaking Chinese would be nice!
And what drab dialogues! It felt like the English dialogues were written by Chinese people who just learned English in an ESL class! There was no depth to the dialogues. And the supporting actors all felt like real amateurs because when they spoke Chinese their accents weren't even very good. In the setting in Hunan, the people all spoke with a Shanghai accent. They just don't sound like trained professional actors. And I agree with another reviewer: what's with Hugh Jackman playing such a minor and ridiculous part in the movie? Gianna Jun is wildly popular in China, but she is not Chinese. No, Koreans are not Chinese! During the 19th century part, her role had to be dubbed because she clearly did not speak Chinese. It's like having a Spanish actress trying to act American - again, no authenticity.
Also some background knowledge on Nu Shu: Yes, the movie did it justice by portraying how it was embroidered into fabric and how it was always done in a poetic format. But, to think that a traditional match-maker would be the one to teach the girls Nu Shu was again, ridiculous. Writing and communicating in Nu Shu was meant to be a rebellious and secretive act amongst women at the time who couldn't go to school like their male counterparts. It was in no ways taught in public. A traditional match-maker would have been horrified to even acknowledge such act existed, since it would make the girls much less desirable by men.
It's sad when such movies are made about China for non-Chinese audience, because things in the movie can be taken as true about China, and they are not. I don't know if this movie was even released in China, but I know for a fact that the Chinese would have no patience for such a pretentious tale.
There have only been a couple of movies made about China that are authentic and non-judgmental, including Ang Lee's amazing "Lust, Caution" and the classic "Red Violin" which has a segment about the Cultural Revolution in China, a difficult topic, that was well developed and truthful. "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan," as a movie, is just a wanna-be!
on December 10, 2011
Loved the book, hated the movie. The modern story line and its characters did not exist in the book and failed miserably. It's not a matter of the expected changes or omissions that typically take place when a movie is made based on a book. In this case well over half the movie had nothing at all to do with the Lisa See's beautiful story about Snowflower and Lily. Very glad I didn't spend the money to drive 6 hours round trip to see this in a theater!
on October 7, 2012
I don't normally write reviews, but I have to for this movie...I found it while browsing and was excited to see it because I LOVED the book. About 5 minutes into the movie I was confused, thinking it was another story with the same title...but I kept watching and discovered it is a different story with the same title, but is based on Lisa See's book. Loosely.
It's completely baffling to me as to why anyone would think to butcher Ms. See's powerful story like this in a movie like this....seriously, WHY?? The book is so beautiful, and this could have been a great movie too! Basically, the story is about two girls in MODERN Shanghai who are sworn sisters. It's superficial at best and neither storyline- the modern one or the flashbacks to the old story- are properly developed. Maybe the twist was that Snow Flower and Lily reincarnated as these two girls, but in any case it's a big massive fail.
Go read the book, it's truly superb.
on June 18, 2012
Lots of reviewers have talked about this movie, the good and the bad. I will, therefore, talk about my experience alone, based on someone who LOVED the book.
I do not overstate that I cherished CHERISHED the first time I read this book. It TOOK YOU to a place, a time, an experience, a friendship. The intimate details of pain and heritage that comes with foot binding. The lack of motherly love. The friendship that got 2 girls through their horrible food binding and their tumultuous childhood. Their secret language.
The movie was, let's just say, weird. It focused on the foot binding for...oh, I'm going to say...three minutes. And those scenes were spread apart. The intimate childhood friendship that started and made us want to cheer them on? Not found in the movie. Just a bunch of modern-day friendship comparison. What? I know! So sad.
This movie was such a disappointment. If you loved the book, for the love of goodness, rent the movie. Don't buy it.
If you have not read the book..please, please do not let this stupid movie dissuade you from reading what is one of my very favorite books of ALL TIME. As a matter-of-fact, put this movie totally out of your mind when you read the book. Don't even imagine these characters in your visions while reading the book.
I would not recommend this movie for anyone. Sorry to be so blatant and tough, but the book was beautiful and detailed and compelling. The movie is NONE of these things.