Two stories intertwined about the lifelong friendship of two girls from 19th Century China, and two girls who are descendants of these girls in modern China. According to the prologue, marriage carried all benefits for the men, wealth, power, and gain, but through a custom of laotong, two women would become sisters for life and be devoted to each other and to protect and nurture each other. We join the two modern day girls as they are taught the custom and told the reason why they should watch out for each other. But one of the girls writes the story of their ancestors, Snow Flower (Gianna Jun) and Lily (Bingbing Li) who were matched when they were seven years old hundreds of years ago. The wrote between the folds of a white silk fan, in a secret language. In modern times, Nina (Bingbing Li) and Sophia (Gianna Jun) struggle to maintain their connection in the face of their lives, careers, and the troubles of the modern world. They become separated due to problems and secrets until a horrible tragedy brings them back together in a way that neither would wish.
This is a very beautiful film, and a wonderful story, though not perfect. First and foremost, this is not the book. I have not read the book, but from what I hear it's a wonderful story. The story of ancestral girls is from the book, and of course it goes far deeper into the relationship and hardships of these two girls. The movie, on the other hand, invents a whole new modern day story which really angered the lovers of the book. For purists, the intertwining of the two stories is very confusing. I didn't find that to be the case at all, as although the same two girls play both roles, it is very easy to tell which time period you are looking at as the background, dress, and scenery is very different.
The other complaint I hear is that it is slow. Movies of this genre usually are, and this is no exception. It's a deep and somewhat dark look at how the lives of women in China it rough. Like Joy Luck Club (which is from the same people) it's not a fast paced action adventure. So some of the critics were vicious on this film, and I don't think it's warranted. I thought it was very touching, very poignant, and very beautiful. The lessons that the girls learned (the two stories are surprisingly similar) are valuable. Friendships should be loyal and long lasting, and having a friend for life is a stellar accomplishment. Too often we get twisted away on the turns and obstacles in our life, and lose our focus. It's nice to have someone who can ground us to our roots. Especially in Asian cultures where family relationships are so important, this is a good lesson.
The stories are very strong, and very touching. Bring a Kleenex with you when you watch it. Find a nice warm mug of hot chocolate and a snuggie and put this film on. It should be done in one sitting, so's to get the entire impact, and I think you'll find it enjoyable, at least if you've got a soft spot in there somewhere. Hugh Jackman makes an appearance (and sings in Chinese of all things) but don't blink you're eyes or you'll miss him. Well, maybe not, as he really stands out in a film mostly in Chinese (with English Subtitles) with mostly Chinese characters. :-)
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