Sentimentality and melodrama go hand-in-hand in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

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Starring Bingbing Li and Gianna Jun. Rated PG. Now playing

Based on Lisa See’s bestselling novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan has all the sentimentality you’d expect from a big budget, cross-generational chick flick.

Alternating between the present day and 19th-century China, director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club) serves up extra portions of just about everything. In the name of eternal sisterhood, we get two sets of best friends from different eras—both played by Bingbing Li and Gianna Jun. Along the way, he throws in a twin scoop of loutish partners, a tragic pregnancy, and a plague.

Did I mention we start things off with a coma?

The modern part of the story focuses on the lifelong friendship between two girls. As our story begins, Nina (Li) is a rising young executive who is about to leave Shanghai to accept a promotion in New York. Her best friend, Sophia (Jun), is an aspiring novelist with a talent for making all the wrong choices. They’ve been estranged for the past few months. But when Nina discovers that Sophia is in a coma as a result of a traffic accident—complete with a swirl of mummy-style bandages around her head—she cancels her plans in order to stay by her side.

When Nina begins reading Sophia’s novel, we become immersed in the world of Lily (Li) and Snow Flower (Jun), two devoted friends from the 1800s who are struggling to cope with the harsh restrictions of another time. It’s all pretty, exotic and about as predictable as anything you’ll see this summer.

On the other hand, our two leads approach their dual roles with a subtlety that can be profoundly touching. You really believe that they’re best friends. And if things around them tend to get a little too melodramatic, well, friendship is like that sometimes.

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