Otherwise known as “two hours, I’ll never get back.”
I don’t understand why filmmakers are so compelled to insert a modern story when they’re adapting what was a beautifully-written historical novel. Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was strong on its own, with a fascinating story about two 19th Century Chinese girls who grow into womanhood as laotong, or sworn sisters. It’s told by the now 80-something Lily, who has outlived everyone else involved (including her laotong, Snow Flower), and is now watching the next generation of her family in her home.
That was the movie I should have been watching. Instead, director Wayne Wang and screenwriter Angela Workman decided to turn the film into a bastardized version of The Joy Luck Club. They worked up a modern day parallel story that involved Lily and Snow Flower’s granddaughters’ (to be honest, I’m not sure which one — Nina or Sophia — belonged to whom) who were once best friends but torn apart after a disagreement involving Hugh Jackman (who sings!!)
*Note, more movies should involve Hugh Jackman singing. It was honestly the only part of the modern-day story I paid attention to.
When Nina gets into an accident, the hospital calls Sophia because, hey, why have Hugh Jackman as your emergency contact when you can have your former bestie who now hates your guts? She rushes over and as she waits for her friend to come out of the coma, she starts searching for the secret fan that Nina had, which belonged the their grandmothers. As she’s doing this, the story flashes back to said-grandmothers, and See’s gorgeous novel comes to life.
Until Workman decides that the audience is getting bored with the subtitles and yanks them back to the present for a disjointed story (did I mention that Nina’s in a coma? That means lots of trips to the department of back story in order to justify paying the actress.) that must be followed closely to make half a lick of sense.
The problem is, I didn’t want to pay attention (save Hugh’s singing). I wanted to see the novel that I enjoyed brought to life unbastardized. Yes, The Joy Luck Club used the same technique as it flashed back and forth between 1990s San Francisco and 1950s China, but the importance here is that that was author Amy Tan’s intention! There was no determination on the part of the filmmakers that the source material wasn’t interesting enough to support the two-hour run time.
If I were Lisa See, I’d be livid.