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New Film Shows Pains, Gains Of Female Friendship

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Movie buffs or those interested in literature about the world – particularly the world of women – probably remember the 1993 film “The Joy Luck Club. It was based on Amy Tan’s best-selling novel and told a story of mothers and daughters struggling to live and love each other across generations.

Its director Wayne Wang now has a new film, “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” that also explores the intimate lives of women and girls.

The film is based on Lisa See’s best-selling novel, and opens in selected theaters nationwide on July 15.

The main story is set in 19th century China, where two little girls named Snow Flower and Lily are matched as laotongs.

“In those days, if you’re born on the same year, same month and same date, you’re supposed to be destined to be together. A matchmaker will match up these two girls, and have them sign a contract to become laotongs, or sisters for their entire lives.”

Sometimes the girls experience footbinding on the same day – a procedure that existed for over 1000 years in China, according to Wang. When girls were about age 7, they got their toes broken and bound beneath the soles of their feet with bandages. Wang adds that this makes feet look like three inch-long triangles, also known as ‘golden lotuses.’

Wang says footbinding was meant to establish and display social status. He elaborates that women with bound feet did not have to work in the fields, got carried around by other people, and were considered attractive by men.

Wang says that wearing high heels today is similar to having bound feet in the past because feet are packed into a tight shoe, and women who could afford heels are probably driven in cars by others.

The book and film also highlight the concept of nu shu, a secret language among Chinese women in the 19th century. Snow Flower and Lily maintain their friendship by sending nu shu messages between the folds of a fan.

Wang explains that women developed nu shu so men could not understand what they were writing to each other. He says it also applies to younger people. He gives the example of when his staff promoted the film in China, local youth said they had their own nu shu in the form of texting, and that they were intimate friends like Snow Flower and Lily.

Wang extends Lisa See’s original story to follow the descendants of Snow Flower and Lily – Sophia and Nina, respectively. They live in present-day Shanghai and struggle to maintain their friendship while dealing with the demands of an urban environment, careers, parents and significant others.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

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