DVDs & Blu-rays: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and An Invisible Sign
Art Attack simply refuses to discuss any Christmas-related DVD or Blu-ray releases at least until after Thanksgiving. That cut our choices down by something like 90 percent, but we still found a couple of chick flicks worth your attention. First up is Wayne Wang's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Second is An Invisible Sign with Jessica Alba.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan stars Bingbing Li, Vivian Wu and Gianna Jun; Wane Wang directs.
The Setup: In 19th century Hunan, China, two little girls, Snow Flower and Lily, become laotongs, sworn sisters. As they grow up, they're pulled apart by their families and circumstances. Determined not to break their bond, the two communicate through a secret language, writing notes to each other in the folds of a white silk fan.
In a parallel story, two young women in modern Shanghai who were best friends have grown apart. One of them is writing the story of her ancestor Snow Flower. Wang takes us back and forth between the two stories of friendship and love.
Gianna Jun appears as Snow Flower/Sophia and Bingbing Li as Lily/Nina.
The Execution: Clearly Wang was tapped for Snow Flower because of his success with The Joy Luck Club. While Joy Luck also went back and forth between women living in different times, that was the story's structure from the beginning.
The film is based in part on Lisa See's book of the same name. See covers only Snow Flower and Lily in her story. Wang tacks on their contemporary descendants as a way to show us how much has and hasn't changed for women living in China over the last 200 years. (We see Snow Flower and Lily having their feet bound, making it difficult for them to walk. We see Sophia and Nina walking in equally torturous high heels.)
Snow Flower and Lily's story has more of an impact on viewers than Sophia and Nina's, in part because the first two women live in a world unfamiliar to viewers so all the sights and sounds that surround them make them seem more exotic and more interesting. Sophia and Nina live in contemporary Shanghai, which while not familiar to most Americans, still has commonplace sleek glass and steel skyscrapers, crowded city streets and modern conveniences.
The Verdict: Wang accomplishes his goal: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a tender, heartfelt story. Both lead actresses turn in credible, moving performances.
The Extras: Unfortunately, there are very few extras on today's releases, just a The Sworn Sisterhood of the Secret Fan featurette and the theatrical trailer.
An Invisible Sign stars Jessica Alba, Chris Messina and Sonia Braga.
The Setup: Jessica Alba is Mona, a 20-year-old math whiz who's somewhat adrift. Her father's been mentally ill for years and Mona's way of coping with that has been making deals with the universe. She'll give up her favorite things and in exchange the universe will give her back her healthy, happy dad. The only thing Mona hasn't given up is math. When her mother (played beautifully by Sonia Braga) forces her to leave home, Mona gets a job teaching math at an elementary school where she meets a handsome co-worker (Chris Messina).
The Execution: Alba, usually the sexy, sultry beauty, plays the geeky, shy Mona to perfection. In baggy, unfashionable clothes, wearing bangs that badly need trimming, she's still a magnet on screen. Alba doesn't take a single misstep on her journey from socially clueless outcast to blossoming, creative young woman.
The Verdict: Alba is charming as the awkward Mona. With a less-is-more attitude in her approach to the character, Alba brings Mona to life slowly, carefully and wonderfully. This is a small, quiet movie that holds its own.
The Extras: None.