Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Wayne Wang

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Wayne Wang
At the risk of sounding glib, I'm going to assert that Wayne Wang has been coasting on the acclaim and success of The Joy Luck Club for nearly 20 years, making a lot of really mediocre films with little vision or substance. Sure, he tried to say something astute with his realist, subversive take on Pretty Woman and The Center of the World, while the surprisingly cynical subtext beneath the fluffy rom-com machinations of Maid in Manhattan was refreshing, but he's mostly just made mediocre, forgettable fare. Unfortunately, his middling and overly crowded take on the Lisa See novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, doesn't change this, acting as a pretty template of missed potential drenched in a sea of clumsy exposition, poorly conceived performances and awkward staging. In the sole DVD supplement, which is an ersatz "Making of," Wang fancies himself a modernist director, noting that it was his decision to include a secondary, modern storyline, since he didn't want to make a straightforward period piece about See's story of two young girls in 19th Century China bound by a custom called laotong, wherein young women are forced into friendship for life to help with marriage prospects. Coming from differing dispositions ― Lily (Bingbing Li) being the pragmatic one and Snow Flower (Gianna Jun) the passionate, sacrificial one ― their path is turbulent, as documented through a secret language on fans, making for eventual conflict and emotional turmoil. This adaptation injects a secondary storyline, which has the same actresses playing Nina and Sophia in modern-day Shanghai befriending one another under contextually similar circumstances, going down different life paths. It's a patronizing and unnecessary structure that forces context onto the audience, assuming basic textual illiteracy on their part. Surely the female suffrage subtext exacerbated by the ludicrous act of feet binding speaks for itself, linking to the modern cultural insanity that fetishizes those that starve themselves to reveal their bones, muscles and internal organs on the surface. But here it's juxtaposed with female identity as the result of a masculine culture that renders women irrelevant without companionship or assimilation to a male work ethos, suggesting that the only things that matter are friendship and loyalty. All of this would be fine if we were forced into relationships without build-up, told through exposition about their significance. Perhaps then, we would care more when everyone starts crying and admitting to devastating life decisions. (Fox)