Foreign historical films have the power to transport us back in time to fascinating, exotic places. When a period movie features a woman and her unique story, it has all of the makings of a profoundly moving viewing experience. These are my top five foreign “chick flick” picks:
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
20th Century Fox, 2011
This movie, based on a novel by Lisa See, is centered around the concept of “loatong”. Loatong is the Chinese term referring to a sister relationship formally entered into by two young girls for the purpose of providing a lifetime of companionship, emotional support and comfort. The storyline traces the loatong relationship of two pairs of sworn sisters – one in modern-day, urban China, the other in 19th century, rural China. The movie provides glimpses of the plight and struggles of Chinese women within China’s historical cultural framework. It is a beautiful, touching and tender story of love shared between women.
Allumination Film Works LLC, 2007
The backdrop for this movie is the Partition of the British Indian Empire in 1947. In the aftermath of the Partition, millions of Muslims migrated to modern-day Pakistan, while millions of Hindus and Sikhs migrated to modern-day India. The Partition sparked hatred, violence and carnage on a horrific scale. In the movie, a Muslim woman is separated from her family during a brutal attack on her people by a Sikh mob. She is later found by a Sikh man who takes her in and hides her in his home. In time, they fall deeply in love. However, their love is tested by religious and cultural intolerance. This is a moving, thought-provoking story of tragic love.
20th Century Fox, 1995
This movie is set in 1910s in what was then The Territory of Hawaii. Around this time, Japanese and other Asian men came to Hawaii to work on the sugar plantations. In time, these men sought wives from their homeland. Marriages were arranged by families or a matchmaker on the basis of an exchange of pictures. This story chronicles the experience of a 16-year old Japanese “picture bride” who travels to Hawaii to marry. Upon arriving in the islands, she discovers that she has been deceived: her husband-to-be is actually 43 years old and she is expected to work as a farm laborer. Bitterly disappointed but unable to return to Japan, she embarks on her new life with a fierce determination. This is a poignant story of hardship, perseverance and love.
UTV Motion Pictures, 2008
This 3-1/2 hour historical drama is set in 16th century Hindustan (modern-day India). At this time, Hindustan was ruled by Akbar the Great, a Muslim Mughal Emperor. In order to strengthen the Mughals’ relationship with the Raiputs (the conquered local Hindus), Akbar entered into an arranged marriage with Jodhabai, a Raiput princess. What begins as a marriage of political convenience turns into a great romance. However, that romance is challenged by religious differences and prejudices and court intrigue. This captivating epic tale of love offers a glimpse into India’s rich cultural, social and religious past.
Pavilion of Women
Universal Home Video, 2001
This movie, based on a novel by Pearl S. Buck, is set in the 1930s in China. It focuses on a wealthy and intelligent 40 year old woman who seeks more independence from her domineering and sexually demanding husband. She tries to accomplish this by giving him a young, orphaned concubine. At the same time, she hires an American priest to give her son a western education. The storyline follows the development of and changes in the relationships among the wife, priest, son, concubine, husband and other family members. It also provides a glimpse into pre-communist China and how a prominent, traditional Chinese family is forced to deal with impending changes in the social and cultural structure.