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Snow Flower And The Secret Fan - Review

Snow Flower & The Secret Fan

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

WAYNE Wang’s adaptation of Lisa See’s popular best-seller is a curious misfire that needlessly tries to embellish the source material to make it ‘relevant’ for modern audiences.

In novel form, the story focuses on the friendship – or ‘laotong’ – that develops between Snow Flower (Gianna Jun) and Lily (Li Bing Bing) in 19th Century China from childhood to old age, thereby taking in issues of foot-binding, rebellion, plague and self-sacrifice.

It also examined the durability of such a friendship in a male dominated world and exposed how the two women were able to communicate by using a secret language that was conveyed via a fan.

Wang’s film almost reduces that story to a secondary element, opting instead to examine another friendship between Nina and Sophia (played by the same actresses) in present-day Shanghai that loosely echoes their historical counterparts.

In doing so, he aims to examine how career choices have a much bigger role to play and how attitudes have only moderately improved to certain issues.

Unfortunately, he seems to want to have his cake and eat it. Fans of the novel, especially, will be extremely disappointed that See’s rich text has been diluted in favour of a really rather pointless contemporary addition – it’s almost as though the filmmakers are saying that the author’s story wasn’t enough in spite of its literary success.

And it’s a gamble that also backfires because the decision to divide its time between two time periods means that neither story engages on the emotional level that it should. Indeed, much of what unfolds feels episodic and only tenuously connected.

The performances of the two leading ladies, Jun and Bing Bing, attempt to compensate and are nicely observed, while an extended cameo from Hugh Jackman brings some much-needed light relief to the modern story late on.

Wang’s direction is also beautiful to look at in both eras. But given the burden he has placed upon himself in seeing two stories through, he could also have benefited from a greater sense of urgency.

Hence, what should have become a historical epic in the grandest, most emotional sense, finds itself caught between two stools and struggling to engage on any level.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 104mins
UK Release Date: November 4, 2011