Wayne Wang started his career with films exploring the Chinese experience, most notably, CHAN IS MISSING, an indie hit about a cab driver in San Francisco’s Chinatown. After a sojourn working in studio films such as THE JOY LUCK CLUB and then THE LAST HOLIDAY, he returned to his indie and ethnic roots with THE PRINCESS OF NEBRASKA and now, SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN, adapted from the novel by Lisa See. When we spoke on July 6, 2011, he discussed using the feminine side of his nature, understanding the effect of high heels by wearing a pair for a day, and why he changed the novel’s plot by including a parallel story set in present-day Shanghai. He also speaks frankly about the pitfalls of making a film with Asian characters for a non-Asian audience, and how he ended up on a radical Quaker ranch when he first arrived in the United States from China.
SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN is a tale told in two centuries about the power, pain, and pleasure of female friendship. The same actresses, Gianna Jun and Li BingBing portray two sets of low tung, or old sames, women who have signed a formal contract to be each other’s best friend forever. In the 19th century, they are Snow Flower and Lily, one rich, one poor, who suffer foot-binding on the same day, both in hopes of landing a good match, and remain close despite the vicissitudes of separation, changes in fortune, and familial obligations. In the present, they are Sophia and Nina, the former an unloved step-child of a class-conscious woman, the other an adored daughter of a struggling family who have pinned their hopes on their daughter’s achievements. Though it is only the former pair of friends who use Nu Shu, a secret women’s language, to communicate, the subtlety of long-term, committed relationships makes for its own specific, inside language used by the friends to communicate with one another, or not, as the case may be. Wang directed from a script by Michael K Ray, Ron Bass, and Angela Workman, which in turn was based on the book by Linda See. Wang burst upon the indie film scene with his groundbreaking CHAN IS MISSING, set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and has since gone on to direct THE JOY LUCK CLUB, SMOKE, and THE PRINCESS OF NEBRASKA.