Wayne Wang is perhaps best known for directing the lovely screen adaptation of The Joy Luck Club, but there's no joy to be found anywhere in the stately, stodgy Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.
Based on the novel by Lisa See, this attempts to draw parallels between twin tales set in 19th-century China and contemporary China. In the period portion, Snow Flower (Gianna Jun) and Lily (Li Bingbing) are chosen by their families to be laotong — basically, soulmates — and they struggle to hold onto this friendship during tough times. The modern-day material finds two Shanghai BFFs, Sophia (also Jun) and Nina (also Li), similarly doing their best to retain their special kinship despite all manner of outside complications.
Wang directs with a painterly eye, but the end result is basically a still life, full of beauty but inert nonetheless. The awkward performances by the two Asian actresses are unfortunate — just one reason the English should have been seen (via subtitles), not heard — although Hugh Jackman drops by to liven things up as an Aussie who owns a Shanghai nightclub. Jackman even performs a splashy musical number (in Chinese!), leading us to believe that, after this year's Franco-Hathaway debacle, the Academy might want to pluck his number out of the Rolodex and offer him a return engagement.