There's a Mandarin word, laotong, which translates as "old sames"; the term is applied to close female friends, though friends doesn't do justice to the intensity or intimacy involved. These confidantes are like a missing half that makes one complete ("Only they know what lives in your heart"), and the sisterly-to-borderline-Sapphic bond forged between laotong is not easily broken. Though, as this supersoapy adaptation of Lisa See's already-sudsy novel proves, that doesn't mean husbands, mothers-in-law, typhoid epidemics, rebellions and history overall won't try their damnedest to ruin such deeply estrogenic intimacy. As the film winds through the travails of Lily (Li) and her beyond-BFF, Snow Flower (Jun), you'll learn a few other things: Patriarchal society in 19th-century China was both class-conscious and repressive; feet binding is, like, really messed up; fans make excellent clandestine communication devices.
While director Wayne Wang (Chan Is Missing) is a bona fide indie-film OG, he also gave the world the Kleenex-cinema classic The Joy Luck Club (1993)---which largely explains the addition of a new secondary story line, all the better to bludgeon your emotions. Set mostly in modern-day Shanghai and involving two other girlfriends (also Li and Jun), this parallel plot feels less like an attempt to broaden the book's horizons than to cash in on Joy's cross-generational appeal while doubling down on cheap-shot melodrama. One of the contemporary women turns out to be the author of the movie's out-of-the-past tale; that she's compelled to actually declare that "this story is really about us" when we've already been watching the same actors play both parts tells you exactly the level of subtlety this middlebrow exotica is aiming for.
Watch the trailer