Sworn sisters for eternity
After reading Lisa See's 2005 novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, co-producers Florence Sloan and Wendi Murdoch were inspired to adapt it for the cinema. Both felt an emotional connection to the novel, since they are both ethnic Chinese.
'We thought [the book's] message was so profound and very relatable even in today's world,' Sloan says. '[It] tells us that if a friendship is solid enough, no matter what happens, we will find a way to overcome any adversity. So I thought someone should make this book into a movie.'
The film focuses on the emotional suffering and turmoil that comes with friendship and love. It stars South Korean actress Gianna Jun Ji-hyun, best known for the hit 2001 romantic comedy My Sassy Girl, and mainlander Li Bingbing. They play two characters each - Snow Flower/Sophia and Lily/Nina, respectively - as the film is set in two different centuries.
'I wanted the two main actresses to play both the period and contemporary characters,' director Wayne Wang says. 'This was quite challenging for them, but it paid off in the resonance the characters had between the present and the past.'
Production staff tried to follow historical records as accurately as possible, even hiring a professional foot binding consultant to perform the painful ritual during the film, and specialists to add authentic touches to the costumes.
The first of the two parallel stories begins in China in the 19th century, where two seven-year-old girls, Snow Flower and Lily, are having their feet bound on the same day. The ritual has made them laotong - sworn sisters bonded for eternity.
As they mature, they exchange messages by writing on fans in the secret 'women's language' nushu.
Meanwhile, in modern-day Shanghai, their descendants Sophia and Nina are having a difficult time coping with their busy lives. Their stress gradually builds up, eventually threatening their friendship.
However, they discover writing on an antique fan that helps them deal with their problems and gain a better understanding of their ancestors' beliefs and values.
Lisa feels the writing is 'about the yearning that women have to be heard, whether in the past or right now,' Sloan says. 'We may not have bound feet, but we're bound up by our jobs, by world events and by our responsibilities to our families.'
Wang says: 'It's a topic that is not limited to an era or any particular location. It's a story that can be universally understood.'