A predictable and overtly Americanised take on Chinese culture.
A shamelessly derivative interpretation of Chinese-American author Lisa See’s novel of the same name, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a predictable and overtly Americanised take on Chinese culture, focusing on the age-long friendship of two pairs of women across two different points in time.
In the nineteenth century, two young girls in Hunan province are paired together as 'LaoTong' (‘Old-Sames’), a ceremonial commitment that ties them in an eternal bond of friendship. Isolated by their families, they begin to communicate with one another by writing between the folds of a white silk fan, maintaining over the course of their lives a close relationship in spite of their cultural differences, which grow even greater with the passing of time.
But that’s where the similarities to See’s source material end, as Wayne Wang’s film inexplicably works in a parallel story focusing on the descendants of the two girls in present day Shanghai. Like their ancestors, the friends struggle to maintain the intimacy of their own childhood friendships in the face of the demands posed by their careers and love lives, and the duo must draw on the experience of their forebears to avoid losing one another forever.
If nothing else, the ham-fisted inclusion of the present day timeline shows a complete lack of faith in the audience to absorb a period-set drama, holding viewers in contempt as each timeline patronisingly echoes the other.
It’s an approach clearly intended to evoke an emotional response, but the film’s jarring execution diminishes any impact in the way it awkwardly juggles its flittering timelines, switching back and forth between the centuries for no discernable narrative purpose.
The characters too seem decidedly uneven, haphazardly switching between Mandarin and English as if seeking to reassure a mainstream audience that they haven’t stumbled into an art house picture. The end result plays out like a confused, albeit good looking, soap opera: bereft of imagination but loaded with cheap shots at emotional poignancy.
Another vapid period drama, one personally snapped up by Fox Searchlight at the behest of Murdoch himself no less.
Over long and devoid of any real emotional substance.
Visual flourishes aren’t enough to detract from a confused plot and mawkishly sentimental overtones.