The best movie you didn’t see last weekend is “Snow Flower and The Secret Fan,” a title that doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily as, say, “Captain America,” but a worthy film.
The story starts in present day Shanghai, where life-long best friends Nina and Sophia are on different trajectories in life–one is headed for a great job promotion in New York, the other headed for a crash that leaves her in hospital, in a coma. As Nina sits bedside, watching over the unconscious Sophie, the film goes into flashback, showing how their disparate childhoods conspired to keep them emotionally apart, but their strong bond always prevailed. When Nina discovers a manuscript that Sophie has written about two 19th Century best friends, the film picks up the parallel story, using the same actresses in the early 1800’s.
The parallel period piece is the focus of author Lisa See’s bestselling novel, upon which the movie has been based. See’s story gives us great detail about “laotong,” a special friendship that is akin to a sworn sisterhood. One girl goes through the torturous foot-binding process, which leaves her disfigured, of course, but more desirable—her life will be lived at a higher status. The girl played by modern day Sophie, is relegated to being a poor farmer’s wife. Mirroring the modern day story, the girls who become ladies in the early 1800’s, are also separated by class and distance, but remain devoted.
As the film flashes forward and back, we see both similarities and differences between the lives of Chinese women then and now. Speaking with Lisa See recently by phone, I learned that the things that have not changed are somewhat universal. “Chinese women are educated and have careers and family,” See says, “but they still don’t get equal pay or equal rights. They are the ones who have responsibility for the elderly family members, as well as raising the children, cleaning the clothes, running the household.”
The movie version of See’s book hasn’t enjoyed as many popular reviews as her original novel, but See realizes the enormous differences between the two media, and is satisfied that director Wayne Wang took pains to address her pre-filming concerns: “I was very vigilant that it be historically accurate and true to those women and their culture and experience.”
See has a special relationship with the books she writes, which could be summed up as, maybe, ‘maternal’? “Oh, absolutely maternal! They’re like children—on any day one is your favorite.”
See’s passion for her books seems almost super concentrated for the women in “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” “their lives were so hard, they were so isolated.” And yet, they found a way to love and communicate and even write through a special language. That’s where the “Secret Fan” part comes in, but I’ll leave that for you to discover in the best movie you didn’t see last weekend.
Snow Flower and The Secret Fan is Currently Playing At Landmark’s E Street and Bethesda Row Cinemas http://www.landmarktheatres.com/Market/WashingtonDC/WashingtonDC_Frameset.htm
For More Detail On the Novel, please visit: http://www.LisaSee.com