There is a word (or words) in Chinese that means ‘old sames’. That word is laotong. As understood, it is used to describe a relationship between two women that would be similar to close and strong friends, would last longer than sisters, and be even more intimate than marriage, but yet would not involve sex. In short, a laotong would be an emotional match that would last a lifetime.
In 2005, Lisa See wrote a novel called Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. This book would become a best seller. In the book, a character describes a laotong thusly: A laotong relationship is made by choice for the purpose of emotional companionship and eternal fidelity. The book opens with the following sentence:
I am what they call in our village “one who has not yet died.”
The speaker of these words is an 80 year old widow. She’s outlived her husband, and her future is limited. So she spends much of her remaining time looking at her past, filtered by memories that are hers alone, or those memories shared with her laotong.
From those 14 words, the story of a specific laotong would be told. The novel is more than 250 pages long, and in 2011, this story will be released as a motion picture. The director is Wayne Wang, who also directed the film version of the Amy Tang novel – The Joy Luck Club.
The film stars Li Bingbing, Gianna Jun, Vivian Wu, and Hugh Jackman. Filming began in China in early 2010. The North American film rights have been acquired by Fox Searchlight Films, and the planned release date in the US is July 15th.
The storyline as described by Fox Searchlight films:
In 19th-century China, seven year old girls Snow Flower and Lily are matched as laotong – or “old sames” – bound together for eternity. Isolated by their families, they furtively communicate by taking turns writing in a secret language, nu shu, between the folds of a white silk fan. In a parallel story in present day Shanghai, the laotong’s descendants, Nina and Sophia, struggle to maintain the intimacy of their own childhood friendship in the face of demanding careers, complicated love lives, and a relentlessly evolving Shanghai. Drawing on the lessons of the past, the two modern women must understand the story of their ancestral connection, hidden from them in the folds of the antique white silk fan, or risk losing one another forever.
From the looks of the trailer, this film will be very special. I have every intention of seeing it and enjoying it.
Our destinies are tied forever. We will be laotong – sisters for 10,000 years.
Though this film was produced in China, it is an English language film. Originally Zhang Ziyi was to star in the lead role, but a scheduling conflict caused her to back out.