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Here come the girls: perfect entertainment for a girls' night in
on 4 January 2012
`Snow Flower' is one of those movies which you're likely to enjoy more if you haven't read the book around which it's based. It's an emotionally charged historical drama which contrasts two parallel tales of friendship between women, one set in the 19th century and the other in the modern world. The film interpretation is quite different to the book, although the core themes are the same.
Set in the feudal era of warlords, arranged marriages and foot-binding, the historical aspect of the film follows the fortunes of two young girls in Hunan who are paired together as laotong, friends for life. This reflects the formal marriages of the time when girls were parcelled off to make a good match, without the prospect of love or companionship within their marriages. The film delicately explores the changing fortunes of the pair as their paths separate and they become isolated, with only a series of secret messages for support.
200 years later in modern Shanghai, another childhood friendship appears to be unravelling as the women reach maturity and seem to be going their separate ways. As children they mimicked their ancestors by signing a traditional laotong contract - as adults they must explore what that means, or lose each other's friendship forever.
We enjoyed the historical segments of the film far more than the modern ones, although the mirrored themes are cleverly represented across them both. The four main characters are played by two actresses who deliver heart-wrenching performances with plot threads interwoven between the two time periods. The spikey high heels of the smart Shanghai set echo the torment of the children with their feet bound back to enhance their beauty; the girls are forced to assess the value of their friendships - and make life-changing sacrifices for each others' benefit. Can friendship really last for life, against the odds of domestic pressure and the demands of the modern world? At the end, there really wasn't a dry eye in the house...
The cameo by Hugh Jackman is little more than a couple of scenes, hardly a big part. Some of the spoken English can be hard to follow, while the minor historical characters (the husband and mother-in-law) seem to be little more than caricatures. The film veers unashamedly into the realm of the sentimental costume drama. It wears its heart on its sleeve, in fact; some may consider it soppy but we thought it was touching in its innocence. You'd be advised to watch the film first and read the book afterwards.