Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Directed by: Wayne Wang Cast: Gianna Jun, Bingbing Li, Hugh Jackman Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: July 22, 2011 (Chicago)
PLOT: Two women (Jun, Li) are best friends for life, as their dedication to their companionship is presented in two different centuries.
WHO'S IT FOR?: Everyone's got a best friend, but this movie definitely isn't for everyone. It requires a tolerance for schmaltz, along with an interest in seeing a "BFFL" story that happens in mid-1800's China.
EXPECTATIONS: Going into this film, I wasn't sure what to expect. I'm admittedly not too familiar with Wayne Wang, who has directed both The Joy Lucky Club and then later Maid in Manhattan.
Gianna Jun as Sophia/Snow Flower: Despite all of the emotional weight that is put on Sophia (especially as she read's Lily's "Snow Flower" manuscript), Jun's performance is not something that really captivates, especially when coddled by the story's overshadowing with its dark clouds. Her presence is taken over by the events of the story, turning her into a forcefully teary-eyed pawn in this plot's dramatics. Score: 4
Bingbing Li as Nina/Lily: This performance has synchronicity with Jun's in that it is just as foggy, in either era of which she's working. However, due to the circumstances of Nina, this one is even more cloudy, if not like a full on rainstorm of moodiness. She's especially pale as Lily, her 1800's alter-ego. Score: 4
Hugh Jackman as Arthur: Jackman's random appearance in this movie proves that strange cameos can sometimes be something to hold us over during a bad film's bleaker spots. Arthur is just another one of Lily's boyfriends, but Jackman's appearance is not downplayed by director Wang. Instead, Jackman pops on screen, sings, sings in Chinese, and then smooches one of the ladies. Playing into the rest of the movie's mood, Arthur returns for one more scene to make everything cold again. Score: 3
TALKING: Snow Flower has a tendency to jump between the languages of Chinese and English, whenever it feels. Especially when the dialogue is in English, it can feel forced and ultimately obvious. Score: 4
SIGHTS: While its art direction for the 1800's segments might be the most labored elements, the most beautiful visual moments of the film can be found in its location shots. Modern Shanghai is captured with illustrious wide shots that show the city as a busier, yet as captivating City of Light. Score: 6
SOUNDS: With its story covering two different centuries, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan has two styles of music, depending on the time period of the visuals. Both styles have similar tendency for sappiness, but are able to reach moments of friendly harmony. Score: 4
BEST SCENE: The last scene finally gives Snow Flower and the Secret Fan its desired poetry, even though I wasn't sure if we were still hearing the letter, or just the narration. Either way, it fit nicely.
ENDING: Their situations are switched as the two best friends forever lay in bed together.
QUESTIONS: Was the book's plot time line less jumbled? How much does this script take directly from its source?
REWATCHABILITY: No, thanks.
Two quarter-interesting stories, from different centuries, are mashed together in to create a jumbled, half-interesting ode to friendship. Taking the concept of the BFFL as serious as a marriage in a Nicholas Sparks novel, friendship is seen by Snow Flower with extreme seriousness, as colored dark gray by the numerous tragedies that try to break the bonds of two people's joined destinies. In the midst of showing how strong friends can be, the movie forgets how joyous our comrades or hombres or homies or pals or bros or sisters or buddies can make us. I'm not saying that Queen song has to play during the credits, but a little leverage would be nice.
Failing to reach a sense of poetry with its poorly mirrored glum stories, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan doesn't hit the proper heart string note until the very end of its story. Before its final moment, the film isn't just speaking about the importance of friendship, but making a weeping speech, using Hallmark poem proclamations, that ultimately causes Snow Flower to embarrass itself.
FINAL SCORE: 3/10