Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan on DVD 2011

Again, this is a book I haven't read and wasn't actually interested in, but I saw the movie preview on another DVD and liked the look of the movie enough to Netflix it. It's a terribly sad story in some ways, but it's also very moving and beautiful, too. For me, the good outweighed the dark and heavy.

The story takes place in two separate generations. In modern times, two girls become friends in China and decide to become laotongs (heart sisters for life) like one of the girls' ancestors, Snow Flower, and her laotong, Lily. But when Sophia becomes comatose after an accident, Nina realizes how far apart they have drifted, and she's brought back to her heart sister through Sophia's written account of her ancestor Snow Flower and the secret fan. In 19th century China, Lily is a poor girl whose circumstances change the day she gets her feet bound in the hideous tradition of the old Chinese world. With perfect, tiny feet, she can reverse her circumstances, and the matchmaker finds her a wealthy girl, Snow Flower, to be her laotong and help bring her up in the world. And Lily's fortunes do, indeed, change, as much as a Chinese girl's could. She marries into a wealthy family at the cost of a loveless marriage and a domineering mother-in-law who doesn't let her visit her laotong. Meanwhile, Snow Flower's fortunes are also reversed, and she marries a butcher and lives in poverty in the country. But the two women still find ways to communicate through a secret fan, and risking much, they even meet secretly. When their sisterly love is tested, they discover what real, sacrificial love is. And so does Nina as she reads their story.

Knowing nothing about the story myself, I wasn't sure what I was getting into. Something like Memoirs of a Geisha maybe, with too many sexual overtones? It was nothing like that at all. There is nothing homosexual about the laotong relationship, at least as portrayed in the movie. It is the simple, beautiful love of two friends who are closer than sisters. Two friends, I might add, who don't even get a choice in the matter of their friendship. It's a lot like an arranged marriage. But through their pain and suffering, they learn to love together. A lot of marriages could learn from that.

I know very little about the custom of binding women's feet, so this was an eye-opener. I expected it to be painful, of course, but it actually made me cry to see children, just seven years old, getting their feet bound until they bled, calling for their steely-eyed mothers who watched, and having to walk and toughen up immediately, a rite of passage for sure. It broke my heart to see them calling out in pain for their mothers from their beds at night. I'm more sensitive this way since having children of my own.

Another scene that deeply affected me and had me sobbing was the death of a boy about my son's size, and as if that isn't enough heartache for a mother, the father blames and beats the mother and won't let her hold her son's body or see where he is buried. Grief upon grief. I wouldn't be able to bear it. But these women are strong, perhaps made so by the very thing that causes them pain all their lives, the binding of their feet. Definitely not saying we should seek out hardship or condone abuse for the sake of growing strong, but it's undeniable that hardship has the potential to make us that way.

Bingbing Li acts as both Nina and Lily, and Gianna Jun acts as both Sophia and Snow Flower. They do such excellent jobs that I didn't even realize they were playing two parts until the credits.

With a very heartfelt performance, this amazing, though fictional, story comes to life, detailing a world that did exist and that we can barely imagine. If you can stand the grief, I highly recommend the movie Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. It's rated PG-13 for minor sexuality and some violence. The book is by Lisa See, if you'd prefer to experience the story that way, but I can't comment or compare since I haven't read it.

Four stars!


  1. Natasha, have you ever seen The Inn of the Sixth Happiness? It tells the true story of British missionary Gladys Aylward and her ministry in China which included helping to eliminate foot binding and leading 100 orphans through the mountains to escape the invading Japanese during WWII. According to Wikipedia, the 1958 film Hollywoodizes some of the facts, but it's overall pretty good.

  2. I have not seen that, no. Sounds interesting. Thanks!


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