Snow Flower and The Secret Fan is a touching story that is set both in 19h century China and present day. Telling the tale of two women bound together in a sacred promise of sisterhood and love, that transcends time, generations, class structure and the expectations of society. Starring Bingbing Li and Gianna Jun who play both their ancestors and reincarnations and directed by Wayne Wang. There is also a cameo that may make you giggle a bit.
Snow Flower and The Secret Fan is a dramatic fable, based on the best selling novel by Lisa See. There are two stories in this film that intertwine but are parallel to each other. The same thing happens in both stories but depicted through different eras. In the 19th century China Snow Flower and Lily bond together through shared experiences (sometimes shocking) from infancy, match made as Loatong, a very sacred and eternal bond that Chinese women took very seriously. It is explained best in the film when, in present day, best friends Nina and Sophia choose to follow in their ancestor’s footsteps and become Loatong, a marriage of sisterhood between women and a promise to love each other for eternity. Sophia’s auntie explains it as a marriage that women were able to choose for their own reasons, for companionship and devotion, unlike their marriage to their husbands which was forced and conducted to produce a son alone. It is moving to see a film that describes female friendship and how deeply it can be felt.
It is also nice to view a film that explains love properly. Other films portray love as a by-product of physical affection but a truly deep love is felt from the connection two people feel emotionally, spiritually or soulfully. Your “soul mate” may not be the person you are married to it may be your best friend, your sister, your mother or even your pet, whoever you connect with on a deeper level and recognize as containing a part of yourself within. I believe that is what this film is about, an interpretation of what a soul mate is. Not only is this film touching but it is also sad in how tragic the lives of these women are on both sides of the timeline, tragic in their longings, their mistakes and their desperate unwillingness to leave each other. Each thread tells the same story but I was more fascinated by the ancestor’s journey.
The costume design, set design and period pieces were amazing, which is why I was more interested in those parts of the movie. The modern story at first seemed flat but picked up as the movie went along, however the ancient story always seemed fascinating to me and well thought out. However, the film did feel rushed with whole years passed by without explanation, you get the feeling that this film, if a proper adaptation would have been four hours long. SFSF never felt that it was trying too hard to make us cry, (the lady sitting next to me in the cinema was tearful however), the film tried to be as real as possible but was still very reserved glossing over things that may have been too shocking. The film may have suffered from this slightly depending on what you expected from it, I believe the focus was always meant to be carried back to the girl’s relationship instead of the external factors surrounding them. The music was very emotionally charged and provided a very calming atmosphere, dispelling any uneasy feelings.
An above average film that gave us an insight into what devotion really means to those connected by love and a welcome departure from forced affection seen in other dramatic films. The chemistry between the leads was well constructed if not real and the transition between the two timelines was, for the most part, smooth. The only thing this film suffered from was the glossing over of certain details involving the present day friend’s sordid lives, it may have induced more sympathy for them by elaborating on this, strengthening their bond further.
I give Snow Flower and The Secret Fan 3 and a half stars out of 5.