Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Reviewed by: Ryan Callaway
Better than Average
Year of Release:
July 15, 2011 (limited)
DVD: November 1, 2011
“Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” is a historical drama about an honored, covenant friendship between two sets of Chinese women, past and present. It is based on the best selling book by Lisa See, with the film being directed by Wayne Wang. The movie opens with successful businesswoman Sophia on the verge of a move to New York after a promotion. While she is celebrating, a somber looking Nina attempts to call her, unsuccessfully. She then rides off on her bicycle, so lost in her thoughts that she ends up getting hit by a car.
Sophia is notified that Nina is in a coma and rushes to the hospital. She then calls off her trip to New York and remains by her friends” side. While waiting on Nina to hopefully awake, she travels around to find out what her old friend’s life had become like during their time apart. This brings up memories of their friendship, both its beginning and its end. She, also, comes upon a novel that Nina had been writing, which tells the story of Snow Flower and Lily.
Snow Flower and Lilly were assigned as laotongs from a young age. Born on the same day in the same year, they are bound to become lifelong sisters and best friends. The movie tells the story of their friendship and lives as Chinese women growing up in their culture, and the struggles they endure.
Despite what other critics have said, I thought this was an excellent film—3½ out of 4 stars from me. It is well made, the acting is top notch, the visuals appropriate, and the score—provided by Academy Award winning composer Rachel Portman—is excellent. I didn’t find the constant flashbacks at all confusing, because they come at the right times, and are usually indicated by Nina staring off into space, or focused on a particular object, place, or person.
The story, itself, is very moving. Several people in the theater, including my wife, were in tears, and I was personally touched by the film. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good drama or historical movie featuring Asian culture. There is also a much welcomed appearance by Hugh Jackman, who plays an ex-boyfriend of Nina’s. When I heard he was in the film I was a little put off, but I think it was a good idea to cast him as someone the American audiences could recognize. Although the others may be familiar, especially Gianna Jun, who also appeared in “Blood: The Last Vampire.” Again, all around this is a great movie, well made, and worth the watch.
Spiritually, it is okay. As expected of a movie dealing with Chinese culture, there is no trace of Christianity. Buddhism doesn’t feature either, fortunately, except for the practice of burning incense for the deceased. There is, also, some talk of astrology, as the “laotongs” are linked in accordance with their signs. Sacrificial love is demonstrated by both women, throughout the film, and in heartwarming fashion. The friendship is beautiful, and such love between friends is sorely missing today, even in the Christian community.
***SPOILERS*** There is no foul language or blasphemy, thank God. Sexual content is limited to a single scene that shows Snow Flower having intercourse with her husband, but, besides his back, there isn’t any skin shown, and it is brief. Violence is also minimal, and only happens off screen. We see the results of spousal abuse on Snow Flower’s face. Sickness and death is touched upon, especially during the part of the story about Snow Flower and Lily, at a time when plagues had little or no remedy. Several deaths occur, with some seen on screen. There’s also a bit of drug use, as one of the girls” fathers has an addiction to opium, but, like the abuse, it isn’t portrayed at all in a positive light.
There are a couple of important topics that I believe this film opens up for discussion. One is the true liberation that Christianity should bring to women. In this movie, when Lily’s husband is about to travel for business, she simply asks if it would be safe, since it’s a considerable distance away. He says “it’s not a woman’s place to worry.” There’s, also, the horrendous practice of foot binding: binding the feet of young women to prevent further growth and give their movement more femininity and grace. It’s painful, as is accurately portrayed in the film, and leads to all sorts of physical problems. The men considered it beautiful and thus, to be married well, a woman’s feet needed to be bound well. Although God calls for a woman to submit to her husband and may give different roles to men and women, He clearly states that men and women are equal. Their roles are simply different. Women are just as important in the eyes of God. And a husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the Church, and to treat her as well as he would his own body (Ephesians 5). Subjecting women to such awful practices, and treating them as if their concerns shouldn’t be taken into account was commonplace in the old days and in many cultures. Unfortunately the women’s lib movements have gone far and beyond what they set out to do (and what the Bible would call for), but having such mindsets mostly behind us is certainly a good thing.
Another issue is the closeness of relationships. The Bible speaks much of friendships and their importance and value in life, particularly in the Proverbs (17:17, 18:24, 20:6, 27:17). No doubt a close friendship is a good thing, as even Jonathan and David had a covenant relationship with each other. Platonic, of course, which needs to be emphasized in today’s culture. Good friendships are a blessing, but I was a little leery when this movie seemed to promote them above God’s holy institution of marriage. Husbands and wives do not exist simply for procreation, sex, or social status (as seems to be the case in the film, at times), but for love and affection (1 Corinthians 7) and to model the closeness of the relationship between Christ and His Church—and Christ and individual believers. The one-flesh relationship, for which a man leaves his father and mother, is sacred, and should be honored as such. I don’t feel any friendship should ever come before that, and, at times, this movie dabbled around that line. One of the women mentioned that nothing would ever come between them. While friends should be loyal to each other, ultimately, besides God, the spousal relationship comes before all others.
This film respected that to a degree, but I feared otherwise throughout its 2 hour running time. It was a scant 2 hours though, as the engrossing story kept my attention to the point that I never felt it was going on too long—this coming from a guy who typically reserves theater trips for action or horror movies. Overall, “Snow Flower…” is an excellent film about friendship.
Violence: Minor / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: Mild
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.
“What should be a moving testament to the enduring friendship between two Chinese women instead plays like a bewildering apologia for co-dependency issues…”
“…overstuffed plot… sad, sumptuous fluff with a refined literary pedigree.…” [1½/4]
“…An emotionally powerful tale of two sets of Chinese women in two different centuries.…”
“…a second-best adaptation… middlebrow exotica…”
“…preposterously genteel and sadistic… For those who may have wondered if foot binding, wife beating and a crooning Hugh Jackman could fit into one movie, here’s the short answer: no.…”
“…Sadly, rather than melding the best of two worlds, the film only takes the worst of their soap operas.” [D+]
“…structural complexity proves an insuperable barrier to effective storytelling. While the action flashes back and forth in increments of centuries, years or months, we’re adrift in the here and now, trying to get a grip on the characters and their relationships, yet finding it loosened with every new dislocation.…”
“Disappointing… ‘Snow Flower and the Secret Fan’ has such seriousness and purpose behind it that for 10 or 15 minutes it could be mistaken for a good movie.…”
“…Centuries-hopping tale of sisterhood wilts under heart-tugging antics…”
“…doesn’t live up to its potential…”
“…This elegant weepie offers plenty for fans of melodrama, character-driven stories and period pieces.… It’s also poignant and could have been more so with a stronger Sophia.”
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