Who's In It: Li Bing Bing, Archie Kao, Gianna Jun, Hu Qing Yun, Vivian Wu, Hugh Jackman
The Basics: Nina (Bing Bing) and Sophia (Jun) aren't just close friends--they are laotong, which translates to "old sames," and is a very sacred bond between women. While everything else in life can seem transient, a woman can always count on her laotong to love them for who they are and never leave their side--at least emotionally. Nina is set to leave Shanghai for a big job and life change in New York, when Sophia gets into an accident. While she lays in a coma, Nina gets to reconnect with her through her belongings, among which is a story she wrote about Lily and Snow Flower (also played by Bing Bing and Jun, respectively) whose bond is put to the test back in ancestral China.
What's The Deal: This flick has a lot of things going for it, including a strong cast, lovely look, interesting costumes, and a singing number from Hugh Jackman (no, I'm not kidding). The story of Lily and Snow Flower runs parallel to the modern tale of Nina and Sophia, emphasizing how the more things change the more they stay the same. Women in the past aren't very different from the ones today, and love transcends everything (including moving, rebel attacks on your village, and plagues). Overall it's a very competent film, but kept me at a distance and never got very engaging.
Don't Fear The Subtitles: The film vacillates between subtitled Chinese and English, and although I think the characters in modern day were speaking English to prove how worldly they are, I thought the quality of the acting suffered. It's kind of like how Penelope Cruz's Spanish-speaking acting makes her American movies look like junk (Vicky Cristina Barcelona excluded). I just didn't buy that a big meeting in Shanghai would be conducted in English, and it took me out of the movie because it seemed disingenuous.
And Furthermore: The Chinese-speaking segments of Lily and Snow Flower's interaction together over time are much more interesting than the modern-day counterpart. I understand that without the comparison between the two, the movie loses its central idea of relationships transcending time, but I found the back and forth to work against the film--it felt very long. However, I did get the point that women binding their feet isn't much different from wearing stilettos, and that lame boyfriends/husbands have existed throughout history. No matter when you were born, your life probably won't turn out how you thought it would, and hopefully you'll have friends by your side. Director Wayne Wang seems in his element with the topic, because this movie is about relationships, similar to The Joy Luck Club. The only problem was that there wasn't quite enough of any emotion, which makes it more similar to another one of his films, Maid in Manhattan.