In present day Shanghai, Nina (Bingbing Li) visits her comatose laotong (sworn sister) Sophia (Gianna Jun) in hospital. She reads Sophia’s unpublished manuscript, a parallel story of two other
laotong, Snow Flower and Lily (Jun and Li) living in 1820s Hunan Province. The elaborate costumes are the most compelling part of the movie, which has a heavy dose of bound feet, sisterly love and womanly fate (babies, obedience). Stilted dialogue prevents character development, summarizing major plot twists with utilitarian language reminiscent of a soap opera. Wayne Wang’s melodramatic film adaptation is unintentionally funny---even with (or maybe because of) a multitude of writers, Lisa See’s novel turns into a weak screenplay. A bizarre mix of traditional Chinese culture with Hollywood kitsch---an attempt to cater to an American audience, I assume---only makes this worse (especially Hugh Jackman’s role as a prancing nightclub owner).