The Jess Lomas Book Club: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

The Jess Lomas Book Club: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

*A weekly feature in which literary connoisseur Jess Lomas examines the upcoming book-to-film adaptations worth keeping an eye on!*

“Gosh, I wish there were more films like The Joy Luck Club!” Does this sound like something you’d say? I didn’t think so. Not many people would admit to liking sappy Hollywood-ised accounts of cross generational Chinese women … but I would. I love stories of mothers and daughters, even more so when the plight of women as subservient creatures is also explored. Films such as The Joy Luck Club and the upcoming film by Club director Wayne Wang, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, cover both of these bases.

Based on a 2005 bestselling novel by Lisa See, a Parisian born, LA dwelling Chinese-American writer, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is hardly a title that rolls off your tongue. It tells the story of two best friends in Nineteenth century China; the film will draw parallels to and show a pair of friends in modern day Shanghai also.

At age seven, Lily is paired with a laotong (“old same”) in a match that is to last a lifetime. Lily and the laotong, Snow Flower, communicate by sending each other secret messages in a unique language called nu shu, free from the influence of men. They share the ordeals of growing up, of foot binding and arranged marriages, the uncertainty of motherhood, and their mutual loneliness, until a misunderstanding threatens to destroy their friendship.

One name you probably wouldn’t expect to see attached to such a film is Hugh Jackman, though I care to wager Jackman will make an appearance in the modern-day portion of the adaptation. In the additional story tacked on for the film, descendants of the laotong – Nina and Sophia – struggle to maintain their close friendship as they grow up and the pressures of a career and relationships mount. Using an antique silk fan and the messages hidden on it, they must learn from the lessons of the past … I bet you can fill in the rest of that sentence.

Though I have not read the book, the original premise sounds intriguing and it is those elements of the upcoming film I am most excited for. The tacked on, modern-day-women-learning-lessons-from-the-past story does little to enthuse, and instead makes me fear this adaptation could sidestep the brilliance of The Joy Luck Club (yes, I said brilliance) and instead give us some sort of watered down Hollywood version of the intense effect the novel has apparently – according to reviews – had on readers.

In the hands of The Joy Luck Club director Wayne Wang, I might not be worried about this adaptation – especially after watching the newly released trailer. It’s only after looking at the screenwriters that I see a large, flashing ‘Danger’ sign on the horizon. Angela Workman has one credit previously, back in 2001 for a Korean film, though has penned the upcoming 2013 film Bronte. Ronald Bass has written some great screenplays – Rain Man, Dangerous Minds and of course The Joy Luck Club being amongst them – but in 1998 he penned What Dreams May Come and followed it with stinker after stinker: Step Mom, Swing Vote, Mozart and the Whale and Amelia. And lastly, there is writer Michael Ray, who much like Workman is new to the screenwriting scene, though has some experience in telling stories of American-Chinese women.

What is obvious from the trailer is that this film is going to be visually stunning with the potential to be emotionally arresting. Immediately you get the feel of The Joy Luck Club, even before ‘From the Director of The Joy Luck Club’ flashes up, and I can see many a mother and daughter heading out to the cinema to experience this film while many book clubs add it to their lists.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan will be released this year through Fox Searchlight.

Discuss: What are your thoughts on Snow Flower and the Secret Fan?

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