- Running time:
- 103 minutes
- Gianna Jun -
- Snow Flower/Sophia
- Li Bingbing -
- Vivian Wu -
- Jiang Wu -
- Russell Wong -
- Bank CEO
In 19th-century China, two girls born on the same day—pragmatic Lily and dutiful Snow Flower—are bound together for life through an ancient Chinese vow of sisterhood. In modern-day Shanghai, two lifelong friends—career gal Nina and flighty writer Sophia—struggle to sustain their deep but tenuous friendship as their worlds slowly grow apart. Separated by centuries, the women's lives follow parallel lines as they ponder questions about duty and commitment—to men, to social norms, to each other—yet remain linked by the titular fan that symbolizes their bond.
The buzz: Asian-themed women's movies are a Hollywood rarity, a vast untapped genre that has yet to cultivate an audience in the way that Tyler Perry's films have connected with underserved black women. If you're getting a strong "Joy Luck Club" vibe here, there's more than a passing thematic connection: "Joy Luck" author Amy Tan passed along the book that "Snow Flower" is based on to producer Wendi Murdoch (yes, Rupert's wife), who then hired "Joy Luck" director Wayne Wang to helm this big-screen adaptation. (In a nice twist, Chinese superstar Li Bingbing plays both Lily and Nina, while Korean import Gianna Jun plays both Snow Flower and Sophia.)
The verdict: With a narrative so rich in allegory, the vital imagery in "Snow Flower" should, in theory, speak for itself. Scenes of Lily’s painful feet binding, for instance, play against a shot of Nina kicking off her painful stilettos. And while Lily and Snow Flower lament their arranged marriages, their modern-day counterparts bond over an absence of supportive mothers. Wang, however, doesn't seem to trust the inherent power of his material, and he needlessly pads the movie with heart-tugging gimmicks and canned melodrama that undercut its raw impact. Slow-tracking shots of someone discovering The Letter That Must Never Be Read, scored to tender piano music while a voice over reads its contents? Cue the waterworks. By dictating the emotions so intently, Wang drowns out the story's nuance and sophistication. "Snow Flower" is also hampered by painfully awkward English-language dialogue between its modern-day characters, and the actors often appear to be reciting the script rather than interpreting it. It's a creative decision that makes no sense, since the whole movie takes place in China and these women are lifelong friends. Chalk it up to another watered-down concession to make the film more palatable for mainstream audiences. Wang and crew didn't have to: "Snow Flower" was already fragrant with resonant themes and intricate emotion.
Did you know? Zhang Ziyi was originally slated to play Lily/Nina before a scheduling conflict forced her to drop out. The movie does get a dose of surprise starpower from Hugh Jackman, who has a brief cameo as the dashing lover of one of the characters.
Movie theaters and showtimes for Snow Flower and the Secret Fan in Louisville.
No Showtimes available
Catch up on recent film reviews you might have missed the first time around.