Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Wayne Wang Explains the Story of Fans and Friendship

CINEMA - February 2011

By Sabrina Hao; Marin Country Day School, 8th Grade

Photo of reporter Sabrina Hao with director Wayne Wang In Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (based on the novel written by Lisa See), two young girls, Lily and Snow Flower (played by Li Bing Bing and Gianna Jun), live in 19th century China and become laotong or “old sames.” Laotong is the friendship that two girls who are “the same” share (same birthday/year of birth, same foot binding day, etc.). Lily comes from a poorer family, and Snow Flower from a more prosperous one. Together they deal with foot binding, marriage, and demanding mothers-in-law, and communicate with each other through a secret woman-only writing called nushu in the folds of a silk fan.

The movie contains a parallel story that unfolds at the same time in present day Shanghai. In this contemporary part of the movie, two women, Nina and Sophia (also played by Li Bing Bing and Gianna Jun), deal with their laotong friendship. As teenagers, Nina and Sophia are told of Sophia’s ancestor, Snow Flower, who had a laotong, Lily. Nina and Sophia decide to become laotong and are bound by this pact that makes them inseparable “eternal sisters for life.” When business opportunities, accidents, love, and Shanghai get in the way of their friendship, how will they remain friends for life and support each other like their laotong contract says they will have to?