Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, adapted from Lisa See’s 2005 novel, tells parallel stories of lifelong female friendship in 19th century China and modern Shanghai. Early reviewers find that Wayne Wang’s adaptation fails both in comparison to the novel and to his 1993 hit the Joy Luck Club.
Three sources (AP, MSM, and Movie Minute) call the film “clumsy”; it seems that Wang’s decision to navigate between rural period China and urban Shanghai comes off a bit like Julie and Julia. The critics wish that they had more of the real thing, rather than the modern rediscovery.
While critics applaud the director for featuring actors who are relatively unknown in the United States (Li Bing Bing and Gianna Jun), some are confused by the few scenes featuring Hugh Jackman, who is friends with the film’s producers, mogul wives Wendi Murdoch and Florence Sloan.
Kirk Honeycutt, the Hollywood Reporter:
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan demonstrates that Chinese-American director Wayne Wang remains one of the world’s best directors of women… So strong are the emotions—and, yes, the melodrama—that Snow Flower and the Secret Fan represents one of Wang’s best films to date… His camera is incapable of not discovering beauty and wisdom in women’s faces. He sees every flaw, yet also sees the heart that accounts for the mistakes and unbridled passions.
Karina Longworth, The LA Weekly and Village Voice:
While the constant cross-cutting between past and present draws attention to the production’s inconsistencies (in the olden days, people apparently made a lot of declarative expository statements like “Now the typhoid epidemic is upon us”; in the modern sections, the women speak in stilted English that’s sometimes indecipherable), when Wang very occasionally allows the two periods to merge, it’s strangely provocative.
David Germain, The Associated Press:
There really should be a disclaimer somewhere, even in small print, explaining Hollywood’s ill-advised tinkering on Lisa See’s novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan… See’s fans likely would prefer a faithful period version — and that probably would have made for a better movie than this static exercise in literary revisionism.
David Fear, TimeOut New York:
One of the contemporary women turns out to be the author of the movie’s out-of-the-past tale; that she’s compelled to actually declare that “this story is really about us” when we’ve already been watching the same actors play both parts tells you exactly the level of subtlety this middlebrow exotica is aiming for.
James Rocchi, MSN Movies:
Wang’s trying to reheat a dish he’s served up before, but it has none of the flavor or the freshness it had 18 years ago, and instead offers us microwaved melodrama and tasteless, tear-jerking, artificially flavored suffering. I briefly felt bad when the film, in its first five minutes, knocked Sophie into a coma. But I felt even worse 10 minutes later: Dear reader, I envied her.
Joanna Langfield, The Movie Minute:
This clumsy adaptation of Lisa See’s popular novel may not be the biggest problem Rupert Murdoch’s got on his plate, but it sure isn’t going to help things, either… And, perhaps as a nod to the international box office, a role has been created for Hugh Jackman. He doesn’t get to do much acting, but is allowed a song and dance number, which wakes things up for a short spurt, if only because it’s just so weird. And, since he’s the biggest globally known star in the bunch, it’s even weirder that his name does not appear in the credits. Wonder what that’s all about?