Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (12A) ***

There is a moment in Wayne Wang’s time-hopping tale of two pairs of best friends separated by nearly 200 years when Aussie hunk Hugh Jackman appears and warbles a love song into a microphone. It’s like bad karaoke. He even does it in Chinese.

It’s a moment of fatal imbalance in an already unwieldy movie in which Wang stitches together a tale of friendship and loyalty that skips between contemporary China and 1829 when history tells us that Snow Flower and Lily were introduced and became sworn sisters for life.

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Wang flashes back and forth from 1829 to 2010 and presents his narrative through the pages of a novel being written by Nina, the modern equivalent of Lily. But Nina is in a coma following a road accident. Her close friend Sophia must use the book, and the ancient secret code known as Nu Shu, to unravel what has happened to her friend.

The idea of the sisterhood between women of dissimilar classes should be compelling and intriguing. Yet the constant shuffling between time periods makes for muddled viewing.

A tighter script, fewer flashbacks and the loss of jarring Jackman would have benefited this slow, uneven, overlong drama. A lesser filmmaker might have gone for one era over another. Wang’s decision to tackle both is his, and the film’s, downfall.