Who's In It: Li Bing Bing, Gianna Jun, Vivian Wu, Hugh Jackman
The Basics: Two parallel stories of female friendship, one set in the distant past, one in the present. Four women (stars Li Bing Bing and Gianna Jun playing two roles each) struggle with the complexities of enduring female relationships. The problem is that the women in the past have to deal with being treated like property, facing mutilation, beatings and forced death-marches, while the women in the modern sequences (tacked on for the sake of the movie, by the way--they didn't exist in Lisa See's original novel) just sort of drift apart and lose touch and are kind of miffed at each other. You wind up feeling desperate to rescue the ones from the 19th century and wishing that the modern ones would just go on Dr. Phil so he could yell at them.
What's The Deal: There aren't enough movies about women's friendships. And there really aren't enough movies about women's friendships with all-Asian casts. So it's a bummer to report that this one's as terrible as it is. Instead of sticking to the book and setting the entire film in the past, they jam a parallel modern story into the script and then just jump back and forth from incident to incident, never sticking around anyone for long enough to get a sense of the true depth of their feelings. They tell you over and over what amazingly close "sisters" they all are, but you'd never know it from the blank stares and somewhat sad downcast glances. Look, have you seen Bridesmaids yet?
How To Take A Horrifying "Big Statement" Theme, Such As The Intentional, Historical, Systematic Maiming Of Women, And Turn It Into Laughs: Well, first you deliver a lot of close-ups of a 19th century little girl's foot-binding, complete with a soundtrack of toe-breaking cracks. Later, in the 21st century, show us one of those awful contemporary art galleries that only exist in movies. There should be a foot-binding-themed show where lots of giant, black-and-white photographs of banged-up-yet-not-deformed feet are being oooh'd, ahhh'd and pointed at by some extras. Later, call back that earlier close-up when one of the main characters comes home and shucks off her thousand-dollar, sky-high, red-soled, false equivalency Louboutins. Then jump back to a group of 19th century women, driven from their village by murderous revolutionaries, comforting one another with a group sing-along that you'd be forgiven for thinking is titled, "Ouch, Man, My Feet Super Hurt Right Now."
People Who Pay Attention To This Sort Of Thing Might Recognize: Vivian Wu as "Auntie." She's this cool actress whose weird career has found her working with guys like Peter Greenaway (like in his odd sex-calligraphy trip The Pillow Book and his even odder, mostly indescribable 8 1/2 Women) and Bernardo Bertolluci (The Last Emperor), but also guesting on shows like JAG and in movies like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. This movie will wind up on the JAG side of the scoreboard.
What's Hugh Jackman Doing In This? Singing. Also playing the no-good boyfriend of Gianna Jun. But mostly singing. And not for very long either. He's uncredited here. But eventually someone will posted his short sequence on YouTube and then you can watch him be a smarmy, vintage-Vegas-lounge-inspired crooner. In Mandarin. It's kind of great. Also terrible. You know what I'm talking about.