Interview With Lisa
Thoughts on Women Through the Ages
By Beverly Cohn
novelist Lisa See.Photo Courtesy Fox Searchlight
Pictures (Photo by: Patricia Williams)
ward-winning author Lisa See grew up in Los Angeles surrounded by writers
– her mother, Carolyn See, and her maternal grandfather. As a child
she spent a lot of time with her father’s family in Chinatown which
led to her writing her first book which traced the journey of her great
grandfather: “On Gold Mountain: The One Hundred Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American
Family.” Her subsequent books, all of which deal with the Chinese experience,
include “Flower Net,” “Peony In Love,” “Shanghai Girls, and “Dreams
of Joy,” which recently became the New York Times #1 Bestseller.
See recently sat down with a select group of journalists
to discuss the film Snow Flower and the Hidden Fan which
was adapted for the screen from her novel. The following interview has
been edited for print purposes.
Lisa See's best selling novel which was adapted
for the screen version. Photo Courtesy Fox Searchlight
Cohn: What was your reaction to seeing the screenplay
version of your book?
See: It was amazing to see my characters, the story,
and the emotions that I had in my mind. Im literally seeing my
actual words on the screen. Its really wonderful.
Cohn: How did you feel about the additions made to
See: The modern part, which is woven into the film,
is not something that I had envisioned, but I think its a very
interesting way to tell this story. A book is completely different than
a film and lives in its own universe. A film is a collaborative effort,
starting with the director, who has his own ideas, so when you are one
artist, what you hope to say is that I, as an artist, am turning this
over to you.
Cohn: Is there a message for todays women in
setting the ancient part of the film in the 1800s which graphically
depicted foot binding?
See: The women who had their feet bound lived in total
isolation and were illiterate, but they had a deep desire to communicate
with others so that could share their lives. Most of them lived in one
room upstairs with one window to look out of from the time they were
five until the time they died. That is why they invented this secret
code writing called Nüshu, the only one of its kind in the world
used exclusively by women. This secret language allowed them, in a sense,
to fly out of that window and reach across the fields and find other
women to talk to so they could share their lives.
To get back to the question as to what that has to do
with today, I think in many ways women are still very much bound up
in careers, were bound up with responsibilities to our families,
were bound up to our houses, were bound up to things outside
of our control government, natural disasters - and yet we still
have this deep desire and need to fly out of that window of our lives
and reach across the fields to find other women to whom we can connect
and share our lives. And, that need hasnt changed over time. Sometimes
when you write something in the past, and Ive done this before
because I write historical novels, by looking at the past, that allows
you to look at the present and to think about your own life.
Li Bing Bing as Lily and Gianna Jun as Snow Flower,
best friends for life.
Photo Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures
Cohn: Was it ever your intention that relationship
between the two women was going to transition into being lovers as some
of the scenes looked like they were going that way?
See: I saw the film a few months ago and just saw it
again and thought are those girls going to kiss or not because theyre
awfully close to kissing. (laughs) I have gotten that question
about the book from the beginning. Heres the thing: Nüshu
writing, itself, was highly emotional, with lines like, You
are the love of my life, Our bond will last for 10,000 years,
Nothing can ever sever our bond, You are the light of my
life. Reading those lines you would think those women were
having sex. At the exact same time period in England, New England, and
France, for example, women were living very closed lives. They were
in their corsets and were in arranged marriages. Even in this country,
women didnt travel and didnt have telephones so almost all
communication between women friends was through writing and when you
look at that writing, it was written in that very same heightened emotional
place. Certain phrases were used in different continents during the
same time period. Why is that? I think that part of it was the relationship
you had with your husband was not like what we have today. You didnt
talk about how the kids are doing in school or where you are going on
vacation, or the household budget, or whom youre going to vote
for in the next election. There werent any conversations like
that there was the mens world and the womens world
and marriages had very little emotion.
Li Bing Bing as Lily with her best friend Snow Flower
played by Gianna Jun.
Photo Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures
Cohn: Because of the intense emotions these women
shared, did any of those relationships cross over into a sexual one?
See: There were some women who were more than just friends
and were having sexual relationships. Academics seem to feel that it
was about 10%.
Cohn: As an historical novelist, how important is
it to be totally accurate?
See: Hugely important and Im really a nudge about
that. Each time I received another version of the script, I didnt
have many comments about the modern part, but for the part that was
based on the book and on historic fact, I felt that had be accurate.
Im happy to see that the part based on the novel is very accurate.
One of the great things about films and books is that they allow you
to enter into a different culture and a different time. Thats
what I especially love about books; you open them up and you step into
a different world. Thats what art is about whether its
a book, or a film, or a painting, or music; it allows you to experience
another time, another place, and another culture.
Producer Wendi Murdoch, Li Bing Bing, Director Wayne
Wang, Producer Florence Sloan, and Author Lisa See at Fox Searchlight
Special Screening of "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" on the
Fox Lot in Los Angeles, California. Photo Courtesy of
Fox Searchlight Pictures. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/WireImage)
Cohn: Did you start writing as a little girl?
See: No. Even though I grew up around writers, I didnt
start writing until I was 21. My mom is a writer and my mothers
father was a writer so I didnt really want to be a writer, but
I always say it was a good thing they werent plumbers.