Chinese Star Li Bing
Bing and Wendi Murdoch Interview
By Beverly Cohn
Fox Searchlight Pictures
now Flower and the Secret Fan” is a visually stunning, epic film directed
by Wayne Wang (“The Joy Luck Club”.) The movie is set in both the 19th
and 21st centuries and centers on the intense friendship between two
women from each of those periods. They are bound together for life by
an ancient tradition call Laotong. (Low-tahng – “A lifelong, sworn
bond of sisterhood between two female friends, intended to survive all
the changes of life, including marriage and childbirth…and never to
The film also reveals the hidden language called Nüshu
that for 1,000 years was kept a secret from men. To this day it is the
only known language created by women for women. It was developed as
a means of bridging their isolation and was written in the hidden folds
of white silk fans. The film is a stirring exploration of deep friendships
that helped women survive some of the unspeakable injustices they had
to endure in the past as well as the pressures of modern living in todays
The screenplay by Angela Workman and Ron Bass, and Michael
K. Ray was adapted from the Lisa Sees best-selling novel and stars
Li Bing Bing in the duo roles of Nina and Lily, and Gianna Jun in the
roles of Snow Flower and Sophia. In an all-Asian cast, it was an unexpected
surprise to see Hugh Jackman pop up in a supporting role.
Bing Bing, along with one of the co-producers, Wendi
Murdoch, (Rupert Murdochs wife) recently held a press conference
with a select group of journalists to discuss the film. The following
interview has been edited for print purposes.
Chinese star Li Bing Bing (center) flanked by co-producers
Wendi Murdoch (left) and Florence Sloan. Photo: Courtesy
Fox Searchlight Pictures. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/WireImage)
Q: How did you get involved
with this project?
Murdoch: One day I was having lunch with my friend Florence
Sloan and started telling her about this book I had read and how much
I loved it. It turned out that she had also read the book through her
book club and loved it as well. We both thought it would make an interesting
movie and thats how it all began.
Q: Did you face a lot of challenges in producing
your first film?
Murdoch: There were many challenges that we didnt
know we would face and from time to time we had second thoughts about
getting involved in the project, but the passion for telling the story
kept us going. The most important lesson is to assemble a good team
- writers, director, actors, and crew, etc.
Q: What in your background did you find beneficial
in co-producing the film?
Murdoch: I provided counsel for Chinas version
of Myspace and was a vice president of STAR, News Corporations
Asian satellite television operation. Also, I grew up around people
who made films and would go to film premieres. Now that Ive done
this movie, I have a lot of respect for what it takes to actually make
Q: Did you shoot the two different characters living
in different centuries on the same day?
Li Bing Bing: There were only a few scenes that were
shot on the same day but mostly we shot the ancient part first. After
we finished the ancient portion, we then shot the modern scenes.
"Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" stars
Li Bing Bing as Lily and Gianna Jun as Snow Flower, friends bound for
life by the ancient tradition of Laotong.
Photo: Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures
Q: You and your co-star Gianna Jun, who plays Snow
Flower and Sophia, speak different languages. How did you bridge that
Bing Bing: We used English as our common language, but
also tried our best to read each other. I would try to find something
from her eyes and to feel her from my heart so when we touched each
other, (speaks in Chinese to Murdoch to get the English word shes
looking for) it would be electrifying.
Li Bing Bing as Lily, living at a time when
women in China had no rights. Photo: Courtesy Fox
Murdoch: Theres a lot of emotion in the film without
Q: What will the audience learn as a result of moving
back and forth between 19th Century China and modern day Shanghai?
Bing Bing: We see the positions of women from both eras,
especially in the ancient part where the woman can only be a wife and
has no choices. She cannot be educated or pick out her husband and must
listen to her parents who arrange her marriage. She must obey whether
she likes their choice or not. China has gone through major changes
and I think there is no difference now between China and New York. We
have privileges to choose a job, get an education, become a businesswoman,
or just be a lady who stays at home.
Q: Theres a real intense, physical loving relationship
between the characters and at times it looks like its going to
become sexual. Did that element ever come up for discussion? (Murdoch
translates the question.)
Bing Bing: (Understands the question and laughs)
Thats a good question. We are doing big box office in China and
I have been asked that question before. Some people thought that I was
going to kiss with my Laotong (Snow Flower/Sophia) because we
give signs that we are going to kiss. But in this movie, its a
very pure relationship and I know that these kinds of relationships
Lily (left) with Snow Flower, best friends for life.
Photo: Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures
Q: Did you personally experience an intense relationship
like the ones portrayed in the film?
BingBing: When I was in college I had a roommate. We
were very close and were the best of friends. Sometimes we would quarrel
and we would yell at each other. We are still like this. After I graduated,
I went to Bejing and she stayed in Shanghai. At that time, I didnt
want to leave her and go to Bejing, but all my friends told me I should
go because it was a good choice for my career. But I missed her very
much and we would have one or two hour conversations on the phone. I
had a hard time living in Bejing without her. Like the characters in
the film, it is a pure, non-sexual relationship.
Lily with Snow Flower, friends since they were seven.
Photo: Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures
Q: Which of the two characters was more challenging
to play Lily or Nina?
Bing Bing: To play younger and older is really challenging.
When I play the younger character, I feel happy. It took me back to
age 17, when I was in the Shanghai Drama Institute. I was there for
four years so I could relate to Ninas experience a little bit.
When I played the older lady, I tried to learn something from old ladies
but today, someone who is 60, is not very old in China. But, I still
worry about wrinkles. (laughter)
Q: The foot-binding scene with the sound of cracking
bones was most difficult to watch. What was the reason for that horrendous
practice and what kind of footwear did you wear to replicate the tiny
Bing Bing: The belief was that if you had bound feet
you could marry a rich man from a good family. I worried about that
when I first read the script because I didnt know how they were
going to make my feet so tiny. So the costume designer came up with
a shoe design that accomplished that purpose and whenever I had to wear
them, it took fifteen minutes to get them on my feet.
Murdoch: Mothers actually did this extremely painful
ordeal to their daughters.
Q: The costumes designs are magnificent. Are they
Bing Bing: A lot of the costumes are antiques. For example,
the lavish headpiece I wear in the wedding scene is an original.
Murdoch: We had a very talented design team working
on the costumes. We did a lot of research and hired an expert in period
Q: Do you enjoy being a movie star?
Bing Bing: In my mind I never thought that I was going
to be a movie star. I dont want to be the focus but just want
to be a good actress.
Q: What is your most profound childhood memory?
Murdoch: My mothers auntie, my grand aunt, had
bound feet, was always in pain, and didnt know how to read or
write. She use to tell me that when she was a young girl she had no
choices and how lucky I was that I did have choices about my life. Thats
why I pursued an education and a career. (Murdoch has a MBA from
Yale Universitys School of Management and a B.A. in Economics
from Cal State Northridge.)
Q: How do you balance your roles of mother, wife,
and producing a movie that was shot in China?
Murdoch: Im lucky that I have a husband who is
very supportive as well as a good support system. During the shoot,
Florence (Sloan, co-producer) and I divided up our duties so
we could spend time with our children.
Q: What do you think American audiences will find
interesting about this film?
Murdoch: There is a fascination about China and the
film lifts the veil for a deep, emotional peek into its past and presence.