Two intense friendships intertwine in Wayne Wang's elegant and engrossing adaptation of Lisa See's novel. Actresses Li Bingbing and Gianna Jun play dual roles: modern Chinese women Nina and Sophia and their 19th-century counterparts, Lily and Snow Flower. While the latter pair are bound, literally, by tradition — the foot binding to which they submit as girls makes them desirable brides — they find solace in the laotong sisterhood custom and its secret nu shu language that's spoken and sung, as well as written on the folds of a fan. Although the cruelty of the past has given way to greater independence, the modern women are caught up in adversity as well. They learn that gestures made with the best intentions can cause suffering. Wang, back in Joy Luck Club territory, serves up melodrama without smothering substance. The intimacy feels real, and the fan that's filled with messages as it's exchanged between Lily and Snow Flower is a potent visual device.