Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a film based on a book but with a new twist. `According to information on line the book concentrates on the relationship between two women, the eldest is 80 and looks back on her life under four Chinese Emperor commencing when she was eight years of age and first formed a relationship with the other. They come from different classes of society but their paths take different courses after the age when their feet acre bound at a time when the size of the foot in later life could become a major factor when a marriage is arranged. The one from the lower social home marries into the best family in area because she is regarded as having perfect small feet although to achieve this she had to endure great pain.
Her husband is sent by his father away on business when they have been married a short while and she is pregnant. Both the parents die from a typhus epidemic so that after his return his becomes the local Lord of the manor and she the Lady, For many years she is prevented from going to visit her friend and when she does she finds that although her friend was socially higher she lives in comparative poverty without servants as her husband is a butcher and a common man.
According to the film they are all forced to quickly leave when a rebellion occurs (The Taiping revolution when an estimate 20 million people died) and the husband leaves them to retrieves their cow only to find that in the snow and low temperature that one of his children has died and in his grief he blames his wife for not taking better care, strikes her and then buries the child without telling the wife where this is. The lady tries to persuade her friend to leave with her children and live with her so she can have a better life but the friend explains that she is passionately loved by her husband and she him something which she rightly suspects has not happened in the relationship with her friend despite her wealth and position.
This is a challenge to basic premise of the novel about laotang relationship which can be chosen between two girls or women which is about lifelong emotional closeness and fidelity whereas for most women, the marriage is arranged for the purpose of providing sons and where to this day the majority of the population regard bearing a female child first as a failure especially during the decades where China restricted couples to one child unless they obtained special permission. The Lady regards this as betrayal of their relationship which she then also betrays by revealing their relationship to her friends. She is reconciled when the friend prematurely dies but spends many years alone after her husband and her children also die.
The film develops the story interposing the historical relationship with that between two female descendents who also sign the laotang but also find keeping its intentions difficult as they become adolescents and they are also prevented by a relative who sees the girl being led astray by the other, One is then struck by a taxi and is in a coma and the other finds that her friend has written up the story of their ancestors. She decides that this will not happen to them and stays with the friend who in this instance does not die and they are united.
The fan of the title is significant because it was used to communicate messages in the historical situation and is now an heirloom part of a collection which is being shown in an art gallery with the one exception and which is brought to the hospital and becomes a symbolic binding artefact which not only unites the two again but appears to cause the awakening from the coma. The film can be interpreted at many levels from a commentary on the history and social changes of China to issues of the nature of the marital heterosexual marriage, arranged or by choice and which given the growth of professional match making organisations in European and USA society is fascinating. The film is beautifully and tenderly shot despite the grim harshness of some scenes. While there is also a hint of physicality at one moment in the historical era, it is primarily about unconditional friendship and loyalty.