"Sacrificial Friendship Endures All"
SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN tells the parallel stories of four women, two in modern-day Shanghai and two fictional women in 19th Century China, who discover the power of sacrificial friendship. SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN has an uplifting premise that focuses on forgiveness and hope, but it has some salacious content, intense violence and substance abuse themes on the side that merit extreme caution.
SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN is an ode to the redemptive and transformative power of friendship, regardless of social class.
Based on the bestselling novel by Lisa See, the movie portrays the lifelong friendship between Nina and Sophia in modern-day Shanghai, and, in parallel, the friendship vow taken by Lily and Snow Flower in 19 Century China in Hunan Province at a time when women had virtually no rights and the painful practice of foot-binding (wherein the feet of young girls are broken and tightly bound so that they remain as small and infantile as possible) was the only means to ensuring a good marriage. In all of this, the movie takes a significant and innovative departure from the novel, while remaining true to its spirit and meaning. In See’s book, an 80-year old woman narrates her relationship with her “old same” (or laotong), the female friend to which she was sworn for life before her marriage. The audience learns how the women communicated in Nu Shu, a special language passed down by women from generation to generation, by writing in the folds of a white paper fan. The narrator and her friend suffer a falling out that leads to the end of their friendship. It is late in life, when the narrator’s friend is long dead, that the story takes place.
In Director Wayne Wang’s movie version, the two main female characters, Nina (a successful Shanghai business woman) and Sophia (whose wealthy family lost everything during a stock market crash and her father’s subsequent opium addiction) get a second chance at the friendship of a lifetime.
Sophia falls into a coma after a bicycle crash. Her sworn childhood friend, Nina, delays an important promotion abroad to stay at Sophia’s side in the hospital. The two girls, like the characters in See’s novel, have not spoken in months. Faced with the very real possibility that Sophia may die, Nina revisits their friendship and vows to find out what Sophia’s life has been since they last spoke.
In searching through Sophia’s possessions, Nina finds the pages of an historical novel Sophia is writing, SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN. In the novel, Sophia retraces their own friendship by telling the story of her ancestor, Snow Flower, and her friend, Lily. Nina’s flashback memories of the times she and Sophia shared together before their fight, coupled with the parallel narrative set in 19th Century China, converge to form the unconventional but powerful dual storyline.
Wayne Wang’s genius in SNOW FLOWER is to treat exceedingly difficult, and oftentimes gruesome topics (such as foot-binding, domestic abuse, dysfunctional families, and escapism via alcohol and drugs) in such a way that the horrors of 19th Century China and the immorality of present-day Shanghai fade in comparison to the sacrificial friendships of the four women in this story. Watching the movie, viewers come away with the peaceful sense that, no matter the age or the constraints it brings with it, great friendship rooted in compassion, sacrifice, and the pursuit of the good of the other, can endures and overcome any woes constructed by ancient or modern societies alike. This message of hopefulness and forgiveness is what Wang apparently tries to communicate by creating a fresh framing narrative for the story and by offering Nina and Sophia (as well as Lily and Snow Flower) a second chance.
With all this in mind, SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN is not a movie for children or young teenagers. There is some strong sexual content, strong intense violence (some of which is implied) and substance abuse themes. These negative elements merit extreme caution. Still, some older viewers who are in the mood to slow down and watch an ultimately morally uplifting, hopeful story will find much to like in SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN.
(BB, C, FeFe, FR, Ho, Ro, VV, SS, N, AA, DD, MM) Strong moral worldview of friendship, hope and love between two Asian women who do not always make sound moral decisions, but the focus is on tracing the redemptive nature of the sacrificial friendship each maintains for the other, with some feminist elements about the oppression of women in 19th Century China and a portrayal of the strength of women who endure isolation and existed solely to bear a son to their husband, some false religion includes Eastern funerary rites with lighting of incense and an implication of ancestral cultism, some undeveloped homosexual implications include two women almost kiss, two women dance suggestively at club, woman touches her friend’s breast, plus some Romantic elements where characters often driven by feelings rather than logic and misguided understandings of love; no foul language; some strong and strong implied violence such as bike wreck occurs off-screen and leads to a coma, depiction of the suffering inflicted upon women during foot-binding includes blood leaking through cloth bandages and sound of bones breaking, bloody corpse in street sniffed by dog during typhoid epidemic, numerous deaths from typhoid, boy frozen to death in snow, man pushes wife on screen followed by domestic violence off screen, images of skinned animal carcasses and live animal to be butchered; strong sexual content includes married sex, female virgins talk about sex in innuendos before wedding ceremony, voyeurism when woman spies on her friend having relations with husband, man and woman kiss passionately in public outside of wedlock and his hand slides sensuously over her body, cultural but disturbing depiction of foot fetish of husband on wedding night, woman conceives out of wedlock and loses baby; no explicit nudity shown but man’s upper back exposed and there’s implied nudity; strong alcohol use includes champagne toast and heavy drinking at business dinner, club scene with alcohol, rock party with drinking, and women do shots at club and get very drunk; no smoking but references to opium addition; and, cheating and impersonating another student on college entrance exam, lying, dysfunctional families.
SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN is an ode to the redemptive, transformative power of friendship. Based on a bestselling novel, the movie portrays the broken friendship between Nina and Sophia in modern-day Shanghai. Nina is a successful businesswoman. Sophia’s wealthy family lost everything during a stock market crash and her father’s subsequent opium addiction. They get a second chance at the friendship of a lifetime when Sophia falls into a coma after a bicycle crash. In searching through Sophia’s possessions, Nina finds a novel Sophia wrote about the friendship between two women in 19th Century China in Hunan Province. The novel’s story parallels Nina and Sophia’s friendship.
Director Wayne Wang’s genius in SNOW FLOWER is to show the enduring power of sacrificial friendship in the midst of suffering, domestic abuse, substance abuse, social ills, and immoral choices. Eventually, forgiveness and hope give all four women a second chance. Sadly, SNOW FLOWER is not a movie for children or other vulnerable viewers. It has some strong sexual content, strong intense violence (some of which is implied) and substance abuse themes. This content merits extreme caution for SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN.