Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Movie Poster Image

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan



Disappointing literary adaptation has some heavy themes.
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2011
  • Running Time: 120 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Women give each other support and friendship that sustains them through strained marriages and tragedies in a society that doesn't consider them equals to their husbands, fathers, and brothers.

Positive role models

For the most part, the women are portrayed in a positive light. Though they may not always make the kindest or most empathetic decisions, they nevertheless arrive at them from a place of concern and love. On the other hand, the men, with the exception of possibly one character, seem controlling, opportunistic, or both. Sometimes, they're even cruel.


A man drags his wife off and hits her -- viewers don't see much of the actual beating, though she's shown with bruises and a puffy face afterward. A character is hospitalized after a bike accident. References to war and the chaos and despair it creates. Some yelling. Pervasive repression of women pervades the storyline; women's feet are bound when they're kids, hobbling them both literally and figuratively.


A husband and wife have sex; viewers see a man on top of a woman, his naked back visible. Some grunting and moaning. Another man kisses a woman's bound feet. References to a character getting a girl pregnant. One passionate kiss.

Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A man is shown getting high on an opium pipe. Some social drinking in restaurants and bars; two women get inebriated after taking shots.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this book-based drama set in both present-day and 19th-century China explores complicated but sustaining friendships among women. In some ways, it's an uplifting tale that teens might find interesting, but the storytelling is uneven, and some themes/plot lines -- opium addiction, persecution, pervasive repression of women -- may be too intense for younger viewers. There's some drinking and period-accurate substance abuse; one scene of a married couple having sex shows a man atop a woman, with his naked back visible.

Kids say

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What's the story?

As close as sisters since childhood, Nina (Bingbing Li) and Sophia (Gianna Jun) are on the brink of losing the thread of their friendship. They haven't seen each other since a falling out, and Nina is set to move from Shanghai to New York. But on the eve of her departure, Sophia is hospitalized after her bike is hit by a car. She had been working on a book about Snow Flower (Jun) and Lily (Li), two girls who've made a pact to be each other's laotong (a matchmaker-made sisterhood) in 1800s China. Their feet bound, their futures set by others, they nevertheless manage to support each other as they make their way in a world besieged by revolutions, class differences, and gender imbalances.

Is it any good?


It's clear that the people who made the big-screen version of SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN encountered many challenges. It's often difficult adapting a novel, especially a literary one like Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, into a movie. The pitfalls are great: How to condense so much action into a seamless whole? How to translate the lyricism of words into images? What we get here is a hodge-podge of sometimes-stunning visual poetry, lethargic pacing, unevenly developed characters, unexplained motivations, and two story lines, one of which is far more compelling than the other.

Glimpses of the painful process of foot-binding and the repression of women in China's past are truncated, leaving us wanting more. Splintering the storytelling between 19th-century China and modern-day Shanghai renders the present irrelevant and, frankly, uninteresting. For all the glitter and glamour of cosmopolitan Shanghai, what's more intriguing is the history and friendships from the past. How did women cope? Why didn't the nu shu language survive? Did every woman have a laotong? So many questions, so few answers, so little satisfaction. But, hey, Hugh Jackman makes an appearance ... leaving us more perplexed than ever.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how the movie depicts repressive practices like foot binding. How did it affect women in China? What repercussions did it have? What does the movie say about the treatment of women, both in the past and today?

  • What does the movie say about female friendships? How do they compare to romantic relationships?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:July 15, 2011
DVD/Streaming release date:November 1, 2011
Cast:Bingbing Li, Gianna Jun, Hugh Jackman, Vivian Wu
Director:Wayne Wang
Studio:Fox Searchlight
Run time:120 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:sexuality, violence/disturbing images and drug use

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Parent of a 2 and 9 year old Written bySteffauri516 May 19, 2012

An alright movie, the novel was wonderful

I read Snow Flower and the Secret fan about 4 or 5 years ago and loved the book. It's a gripping, period story taking place in the later 1820s in China. The story focuses on the rigorous "lady lessons" endured by "Laotongs" (Sworn Sisters) Lily and Snow Flower. Together they learn to read and write in a secret women's language, become betrothed, and go through the pain of footbinding and marital distress later on. The movie compares two modern-day friends living in Shanghai, with Lily and Snow Flower, which was an interesting take, although, the movie cut out a lot of necessary information. In reality, the book was really more about footbinding and the oppression of women and girls in China at this point in time. The novel itself is incredibly descriptive, in an almost sickening way in regards to the sensory details about he agony of footbinding. The footbinding scenes portrayed in the movie were not at all graphic; the most we see is the binder wrapping the girls' feet up, and with Lily, we hear a small cracking noise when her bandages are tightened, and a speck of blood on the tip of her wraps, but nothing like what was portrayed in the novel. While Lily and Snow Flower are good role models, not everyone in the story is exactly reputable. I put sex as an issue because there are several mentions in the book (only one in the movie, I believe) of sex or, "bed business," and a scene in the film where Snow Flower's husband forces her to have sex with him instead of spending time with Lily. The scene is more hinted to than shown; all we see is Snow Flower with her husband on top of her with a blanket, but no graphic nudity. The alcohol and drug references are somewhat minor. There is drinking, but not constant mention of it, and the only drug reference was to Snow Flower's father in law, who became addicted to Opium, which was a very brief reference. As for violence, there are scenes where a rebel group overtakes the village, causing terror amongst its residents, but the violence that concerned me the most was the domestic/physical violence. There is a scene where Snow Flower's husband beats her repeatedly while they are taking refuge on the mountain. Overall, I'd give the movie a 5.5 out of 10, it wasn't a terrible movie, but it REALLY failed to follow the book and cut out what seems like half of it's vivid detail, which ultimately change the story. I'd rate this movie on for young teens 13 to 14 and older, given the somewhat graphic subject matter, and around 14 to 16 for the book, as those graphic scenes become quite a bit more severe.
What other families should know
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking