Noted director Wayne Wang helms this adaptation of Lisa See's best-selling novel about two young girls in 19th-century China who are pledged as lifelong companions through an ancient ritual, although their friendship is sorely tested as they mature. Paralleling the story of Snow Flower and Lily, who communicate by writing on the folds of a white fan, are the modern-day tribulations of Sophia and Nina, who struggle to maintain their relationship.
Two parallel stories of the trails of long term friendships under the pressure of social constraints and expectations. In 19th Contrary China two girls, Snow Flower (Gianna Yun) and Lily (Bingbing Li) are matched as lifelong companions, but struggle to speak openly under the watchful eyes and tight restraints of their culture. Whilst in modern day Shangri the descendants of these girls, Nina (Li) and Sophie (Yun) must find a way to keep their friendship alive under the pressures of their busy and career dominated lives.
As visually intricate and expressive as the title might imply Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is full of gorgeous imagery and cinematography, as well as an intimate and detailed score.
Though visually beautiful the film’s narrative is somewhat over complicated and alienating; though cited as descendants the connection between Lily and Nina and Snow Flower and Sophie is not made clear in the movie proper whilst the stories have a strangely mirrored but jarring similarity that makes you feel as though the only purpose of Nina and Sophie is to drive home the message of the 19th Centaury story.
The over riding theme of the constricting social expectations of Chinese women is amplified by the repeated images of the ancient tradition of binding feet and the emotional significance of the two main characters furthered by continual close ups of the two actresses faces; both lose all meaning after a while however and you find yourself struggling to care about the outcome for either pair. The beauty of the film is unable to compensate for this lack of characterization and leaves you vaguely disappointed by the end of the piece.