Does "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" work as a movie?

The recent movie adaptation of Lisa See's bestselling novel got mixed reviews.

Although critics on Rotten Tomatoes have so far only given the film version of "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" a 17 percent approval rating, the Arizona Republic calls the film "visually sumptuous."

"Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" – a movie adaptation of the bestselling novel by Lisa See – hit movie theaters last week.

Like See's more recent bestsellers – "Shanghai Girls" and "Dreams of Joy" – "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" is a period piece set in China. The story follows best friends Lily and Snow Flower through their lives in 19th-century rural China, flitting between their childhood friendship and their adult estrangement. Lily and Snow Flower grow up together, have their feet bound at the same time, and pass notes in the folds of a white silk fan. But as the two girls start to grow up, they begin to drift apart.

Lily is conventional, while Snow Flower flies in the face of tradition, Lily marries up, but Snow Flower marries down. Their friendship is torn apart by mutual distrust and feelings of betrayal, but decades later, as one girl lies dying, friendship proves stronger than the ravages of time.

A book so full of intricate subtleties and poignant emotion could be hard to transfer to the big screen without losing much of its impact. So far the film has earned 17 percent rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, a popular movie rating website.

Most critics lamented the film's melodrama and lack of action, with Wesley Morris from the Boston Globe saying "All the two actresses do is gaze out of apartment and carriage windows, through floorboards, into each other's eyes, and, once, while wishfully wearing a man's suit." Carrie Rickey from the Philadelphia Enquirer described the film as "A story of much visual grace and, sadly, considerable narrative awkwardness," while Chris Hewitt from the St. Paul Pioneer Press said that he thought "even rabid fans of the book will be disappointed."

However, other critics praised the film's exploration of the depths of friendship, with James Verniere from the Boston Herald saying that "the power of friendship blossoms" in "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan." Randy Cordova from the Arizona Republic also calls the film "visually sumptuous."

Lisa See admits in an interview with Book of the Month club that she was scared to see the film at first, but felt that the parts of the film drawn from her novel (apparently the film veers off into directions of its own in some places) were "absolutely true to the novel" and she found them very satisfying.

So if you're a fan of "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan," "Shanghai Girls" or Lisa See's newest book, "Dreams of Joy," you might want a chance to judge the film version of "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" – with its visually stunning examination of the binding ties of friendship – for yourself.

Megan Wasson is a Monitor contributor.

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