Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (PG-13)
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This is based on a book that I haven't read, though I think there were some major changes in the movie, such as the inclusion of characters in the present. I believe the book was just about characters in the 19th century, and if the movie had stuck to that plot, I probably would have just put my review under "period pieces." Anyway, I expect the book was probably much better, but I still liked the movie, even if I don't feel the need to ever see it again.
In the present, there's a woman named Nina, who lives in Shanghai. She's about to be sent by her company to oversee a new branch in New York, along with a coworker named Sebastian. However, a very good friend of hers named Sophia gets in an accident and ends up in a coma, so Nina decides to stay in Shanghai. The movie flashes back to when they were teenagers (in 1997), and Nina had tutored Sophia in Mandarin (after she moved to China from Korea). Sophia's aunt introduced them to the concept of "laotong," a contractual relationship that's sort of a "sisterhood of the heart," which is basically a super-intense and serious version of BFFs. In fact it almost seems like marriage, but, you know, minus the physical relationship. Anyway, Nina and Sophia signed a laotong contract, back then. However, when Sophia ends up in the hospital in the present, we learn that it had been several months since they'd spoken, because of some incident that we don't learn about until a flashback that comes much later in the movie.
Meanwhile, the majority of the movie is set in the 19th century, and focuses on women named Lily and Snow Flower (played by the same actresses as Nina and Sophia), whose own story closely parallels that of their modern day counterparts (who I guess were their descendants). Before her accident, Sophia had been writing a novel about Snow Flower and Lily, who had become laotong when they were young children. (They both endured the barbaric practice of footbinding, which is something that always makes me want to go back in time and kill anyone who forces that on their daughters, whenever I think about it.) Anyway, Snow Flower came from a wealthy family, and Lily from a poor one. But Lily married into a wealthy family, and Snow into a poor one (this apparently was because Lily's feet were "perfect," a description that I don't believe can reasonably be applied to any bound feet, but at least we didn't actually have to see anyone's feet that weren't covered in bandages). And Lily's mother-in-law didn't want her seeing Snow Flower any more, so I guess they spent some time having servants deliver messages written on paper fans. But actually, there's less of that in the movie than you'd expect, given the title. They do manage to see each other, more often than they send secret messages.
Well, I'm sure the book must have included a great deal more plot points than the movie did, and must have dwelt more extensively on the things that were in the movie. I don't really want to reveal anything specific about what happens, in either the past or the present. But... there's a lot of sadness, or whatever. I did find it all reasonably moving, though I'm sure the book must have been more so. I don't really feel like the Nina/Sophia story was necessary, but it was alright. The Snow Flower/Lily story was better, though.