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Originally published Thursday, July 21, 2011 at 3:02 PM

Movie review

'Snow Flower and the Secret Fan' makes no sense

"Snow Flower and the Secret Fan," a new film directed by Wayne Wang and based on a novel by Lisa See, grafts a new story line onto the book that makes you wonder if you fell asleep in the middle and missed something. The film is playing at Seattle's Seven Gables.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 1.5 stars

'Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,' with Gianna Jun, Li Bing Bing, Vivian Wu, Jiang Wu, Russell Wong. Directed by Wayne Wang, from a screenplay by Angela Workman, Ron Bass and Michael K. Ray, based on the novel by Lisa See. 100 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sexuality, violence/disturbing images and drug use. Several theaters.

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Ever had the feeling that you fell asleep and woke up in the wrong movie? Those who've read Lisa See's "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan," a stately tale of two longtime female friends in rural 19th-century China, might feel that way during Wayne Wang's movie version — precisely at the part where Hugh Jackman croons a tune into a microphone in a contemporary Shanghai nightclub. Say what?

Yes, this "Snow Flower," thanks to an often sappy screenplay by Angela Workman, Ron Bass and Michael K. Ray, bears little resemblance to the book, and even less resemblance to a good movie. A contemporary story has been grafted on, interspersed with the historic one, both involving two friends. In a 19th-century Hunan county, Snow Flower (Gianna Jun, who also plays the contemporary Sophia) and Lily (Li Bing Bing, also cast as Nina) are matched as children as laotong, "old sames," in a ceremonial lifetime emotional connection. We follow them through footbinding, marriage and family life, as they continue their bond by sending secret messages to each other on a silk fan. Many generations later, in present-day Shanghai, Sophia and Nina's friendship faces challenges because ...

... sorry, I think I nodded off there; the contemporary subplot is very, very dull, despite the bracing effect of Jackman showing up for no particular reason. (Now that I think of it, many movies could benefit by having Jackman drop by for a song.) The idea of double-casting the two actresses is an interesting one, but doesn't make up for the unnecessary new plot. There's plenty of story — and food for period-cinema eye candy — in the book; you wonder why the filmmakers looked elsewhere. And why Jackman didn't.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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