Snow Flower And The Secret Fan Review: Melted Hearts


SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN (12A): On General Release Friday 4th November

Apparently being a Best Friend Forever meant even more in 19th century China than it does today. In historical Hunan, two women who were chosen as BFFs (or as it was known then, laotong) and were bound for life in a relationship more sacred than marriage, which existed independently of their social caste or fortune.

Director Wayne Wang juxtaposes these laotong with a modern day equivalent, bouncing between 1839’s rural China and the modern Shanghai skyline in a film about friendship and its power to overcome any obstacle.

In Hunan, Snow Flower (Gianna Jun) and Lily (Bingbing Li) are sent to the same school as children to await their arranged marriages, where they are paired together and learn a secret language taught only to women. Thanks to her “Golden lotus” feet, Lily is paired with an aristocratic husband, while Snow Flower is married off to a lowly butcher.

Eventually this comes to test their friendship and Lily only realises the meaning of their relationship once Snow Flower’s on her deathbed. Fast-forward to today and we find Sophia (Jun) and Nina (Li) and, two lifelong friends who have had a falling out and have something to learn from their ancestral doppelgangers’ story.

Based on Lisa See’s best-seller, Wang’s film adaptation deviates greatly from the novel which focuses exclusively on the historical side. By doing so he attempts to show the relevance of Snow Flower’s story to a modern audience but unfortunately the movie struggles to accommodate both narratives.

The 19th century friendship is developed much more clearly and the audience is asked to assume that the bond between the modern ladies is as strong, a leap of faith which asks too much.

As you slowly piece together Nina’s relationship with Sophia you are force fed the parallels that exist for Lily and Snow Flower, though this really only serves as a reminded that today’s friendships cannot possibly be as meaningful as they were for women who were forced into arranged marriages and repressed at every turn.

The historical details are incredible and if nothing else, this film is an inspirational glimpse into the strength of women in patriarchal China.

Although it may be lacking in story, Snow Flower doesn’t skimp on emotion. The women go through some serious hardship in both eras, from foot-binding to miscarriage, and this is a serious tear-jerker.

Rachel Portman’s score is a magnificent combination of beauty and tragedy, taking the already sensitive scenes and making them epically sad or in some cases heart-warming. The music is perfect for Wang’s picturesque visuals and much of the movie’s emotional core relies on it.

It’s filmed in English and Mandarin but it quickly becomes clear that Gianna Jun can’t deliver a line in either language and there are painful moments where her speech is blatantly dubbed. Bingbing Li is much better, especially in her role as the 19th century Lily.

Hugh Jackman’s appearance in the film is as surprising as his ability to sing show tunes in Mandarin and although his stint is brief, it’s memorable. He plays Sophia’s boyfriend, a charismatic albeit sleazy club owner from Australia. While it helps the movie to feature a famous face such as Jackman’s, it makes you wonder what his paycheck looked like.

Overall, the film delivers as a sentimental tale about two women who count on each other and make amends even after their friendship seems lost but the modern parallels mesh awkwardly and the 1839 characters are much more interesting than their modern equivalents.

Still, it doesn’t get much better in the soppy /sentimental department than Snow Flower And The Secret Fan and if you and your BFF are looking for a good cry, look no further.