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Customer Review

43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fails to capture the gentle nuances found in the book, December 2, 2011
This review is from: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (Amazon Instant Video)
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.
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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 5, 2011 10:23:20 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 5, 2011 10:26:35 AM PST
bunburina says:
""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?)."

Well, I have never seen Mr. Jackman so "human" in a role. The song he sang was one of the most famous songs by the late Teresa Teng (Deng Lijun) Perhaps he was in the movie because of another Miss Teng (the formerly Deng Wendi aka the current Mrs. Murdoch, the executive producer of this very lame movie), not to mention the potential of the vast Chinese market. Please don't be too hard on Mr. Jackman's Chinese diction.

A movie about the raise of Miss Deng is much more interesting. Anyone interested to make one?

Posted on Dec 10, 2011 12:33:46 PM PST
Victoria H says:
Having both read the book and watched the movie last night, I can't give a better review and reasons for it than this one. The two stories don't work, and the book's story is not fully developed.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 10, 2011 9:01:26 PM PST
Z Hayes says:
Vix, thanks, and I agree. The present-day, modern storyline just seemed choppy to me, and if they had just focused on the past, like in the book, I think the story would have flowed better. I really hoped they would have developed Snow Flower and Lily's characters with some depth, but sadly, that didn't happen in this movie. I wonder that the author actually approved this screenplay???

Posted on Dec 30, 2011 7:35:45 AM PST
Matt Jarvis says:
Readers of a book need to understand a movie can never be the same as the book because they do not share all of the same conventions (movies can't have internal monologues unless they are Ferris Bueller's Day Off and books rely on words that can be interpreted and cherished much more than movies' visual description, etc.). Next thing is that if the original (the book) has weaknesses it is harder to add strength to it and usually actually increases weaknesses in the movie version. As for Hugh Jackman's role it was a role where he wasn't going to get any praise, too 'small' of a movie to win public acclaim and like Mccarthy in Joy Luck Club faces the prejudice of interracial love from both Caucasians and Asians (while interracial relationships are more common with gloabalization people of both races tend to look down on the partner of the other culture xenophobicly). This movie wasn't a disaster but it was never going to be a hit either. If as bunburina states that Wendi Deng was behind driving it to be made it was going to be made and needed a better production team instead of an amateur that liked a certain story.

Posted on Jan 16, 2012 8:31:23 PM PST
SML says:
Wonderful review, Z Hayes. I couldn't say it any better.

What the "the movie can never measure up to the book" crowd is missing in this case is that the whole present-day story was unnecessarily grafted onto the original story because the filmmakers thought that "framing" it through a present-day lense was going to make the movie more acceptable to mainstream viewers. Instead, what they ended up with was a movie that pleased neither the Snow Flower fans nor won many converts from non-readers.

"Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" could have been a stunning movie with gorgeous visuals. China and its intricate culture offers stunning images that would work very well in a movie format. It's a terrible shame. The Sophia/Nina present-day story crowded out the beautiful relationship between the two historical laotongs that we all came to see. In its process of grafting a new story onto Lisa See's original story, Hollywood did NOT come up with a better-tasting fruit.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 17, 2012 4:42:18 AM PST
Z Hayes says:
Thanks SML- I agree with you about the unnecessary present-day plotline. I too felt that this detracted from the actual story of the two laotongs in 19th century China. If the filmmakers had just concentrated on that plot, they would have produced a more insightful film that explores the two main characters in-depth, instead of a choppy, weave-back-and-forth method of storytelling.

Posted on Jan 24, 2012 7:45:35 AM PST
I agree with this review completely. I couldn't have said it better myself.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 20, 2012 12:33:34 PM PST
N. Douglas says:
I have to agree with you. I just read the book and wanted to see the movie while it was fresh in my mind. The modern beginning really threw me to begin with. I cannot see the autor approving this script at all. Very good book very poor re-creation. I'm not even giving it a 1 star. If they couldn't have gotten it any closer to the book then a movie should not have been made. Just my opinion.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 20, 2012 12:47:21 PM PST
Z Hayes says:
Thanks N.Douglas - I think I was being generous with those two stars. I too can't imagine the author giving this script the go-ahead. It was disappointing to see such a weak adaptation of one of my favorite novels.

Posted on Jul 7, 2013 8:43:56 PM PDT
JNagarya says:
Apparently the authoress of the novel disagrees with all those who rant against this movie, as she is in the featurette with director Wayne Wang.

So let's now bash the authoress because "we" know better than she.
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