Snow Flower & the Secret Fan 

'Adaptation' beaten nearly to death

click to enlarge Snow Flower & the Secret Fan
  • Snow Flower & the Secret Fan

Meticulous fidelity is generally too much to ask of any literary adaptation. But there are adaptations that take liberties, and then there is Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, an “adaptation” of Lisa See’s novel that makes me wonder what the book ever did to the screenwriters to make them want to beat it nearly to death.

See’s book takes place almost entirely in mid-19th century China, where two girls—farmer’s daughter Lily (Bingbing Li) and Snow Flower (Gianna Jun), from a family of higher social standing—are joined in a contract that makes them sworn sisters for life. But in the screenplay by Angela Workman, Ronald Bass and Michael K. Ray, that story is folded into a modern-day framing narrative in which the estranged friendship between two Chinese women—Nina and Sophia, also played by Li and Jun—gets its latest complication when an accident leaves Sophia in a coma.

You don’t have to be familiar with the changes from the book to be frustrated by the way the two decades-spanning plot lines intertwine. Snow Flower bounces forward and backward in time seemingly every two or three minutes; Hugh Jackman has little more than a cameo as Sophia’s boyfriend. There’s never any time for either of the central relationships to build resonance, and director Wayne Wang, while providing the requisite glowing cinematography and woodwind score, apparently gets so tangled up in the chronology that Lily somehow conceives her much-desired son while her husband is on a long business trip.

But the real crime is that this interpretation misses the entire emotional center of See’s book: a woman’s betrayal of her dearest friend in favor of societal conventions. The contemporary story—with its tortured attempts at creating parallels and the ham-fisted inclusion of a museum exhibit about the status of 19th-century Chinese women—manages nothing more complex than “Didn’t they have it rough back then?” and “Besties gotta stick together.”

SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN

click to enlarge 1_5_stars.gif

Bingbing Li, Gianna Jun, Hugh Jackman
Rated PG-13

Twitter: @ScottRenshaw

Pin It
Favorite

Tags:

More by Scott Renshaw

Latest in Film Reviews

  • The Trip to Italy

    The Trip to Italy soars on the comedic interplay between its stars
    • Sep 10, 2014
  • Fall Films 2014

    City Weekly film writers look at their most anticipated movies for the rest of 2014
    • Sep 3, 2014
  • Ghostbusters 30th Anniversary

    The re-release of Ghostbusters takes a critic back to a formative movie summer
    • Aug 27, 2014
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

What's Happening

Museums

Journey Stories

Utah Cultural Celebration Center

Mondays-Thursdays, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Continues through Oct. 24 / Free

Galleries

Lindsay Frei MFA Exhibition

Sept. 8-19, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. / Free and open to the public

© 2014 Salt Lake City Weekly

Website powered by Foundation