20 July 2011 | jdesando
It's no secret.
Sunflower and the Secret Fan is the poignant tale of two 21st century Asian girls and their matches in the 19th century: Both couples are bound by the dictates of a patriarchal culture that challenges the natural love and devotion they feel for each other. These lady laotongs or "old sames" take an oath to make them faithful sisters forever, the outward show of an enduring, lifelong commitment to their sisterhood.
Director Wayne Wang's challenge is to intercut the centuries and women without confusing the audience, a virtue not always achieved in two hours of traversing between times. His limited success can be attributed to the striking skyline of modern Shanghai, an apt metaphor for the change in the ladies' lives, indeed for change itself.
Just as arresting as the visual images is the stringed music of Rachel Portman, which dictates emotions as strongly as any other score I have heard this year. Some might complain of manipulation; I enjoy the excess as if it were an ancient Chinese fan of innumerable design. BTW, the titular fan was used by the 19th century ladies to make messages to each other in their special language. Wang's considerable success showing devoted friends in Joy Luck Club is evidenced in the ladies here.
The bonding of protagonists is strong on the surface, but because there is so much to do in only 2 hours, we never have sustained conversation among them to verify what we intuit without much dialogue. It would be sweet to linger more with them while they show through dialogue the bond that makes them sacrifice for each other throughout their lives.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan in the end turns on love, its many forms and demands and on change, which frequently derails the best intentions of love itself. The ladies here evidence in delicate ways the tumult and reward accompanying a lifelong commitment to another human being. And that's no secret.