On Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and The Hitcher — the original, good one 

SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN

There is no doubt that China, a place where the ancient past and modernity's cutting edge are seamlessly juxtaposed, makes a fascinating setting, but that does little to help the latest from director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club). Adapted from Lisa See's 2005 novel, the film attempts to tap into the current fascination with parallel storylines (one in the 19th century, the other present day, both involving best friends played by Li Bingbing and Gianna Jun) and seeks to rouse emotion by showing the bonds of sisterly love strained by life in a man's world. Unfortunately, for 120 minutes, misty eyes and musical crescendos abound, but moments of true connection with the characters are scarce. Suggestions that the film's present-day women are more than friends seem inevitable, and while an examination of that tension might have been more interesting, the film only flirts with the possibility. In fact, it's as hard not to be compelled by the movie's obvious themes — friendship is important; the treatment of women has rarely been fair — as it is to work up much interest in Wang's limp handling of them. (Opens Friday at Green Hills) SH

THE HITCHER

A down and dirty tale of the open road with just enough of a mythic bent (thanks to a remarkable turn from Rutger Hauer) to slip into the hippocampus like a barely remembered urban legend, Robert Harmon's delectably perverse 1987 shocker remains an enduring classic of the sensual terrors of the asphalt frontier. It embodies the ethos of the quintessential American suspense thriller: "Only I can extricate myself from this situation; authority is ineffectual and my adversary is immune to law and reason." Why good boys shouldn't pick up strangers is writ across blockades and diners and the ominous turns of the Cinemascope road, as this cautionary tale about picking up hitchhikers keeps swerving over the yellow line into an unnerving BDSM romance. C. Thomas Howell is the helpless star sucked into the void by Hauer's opposable digits, and the goddess Jennifer Jason Leigh is the only decent human being for miles. And you know what that means in movies like this ... (Shows Aug. 6-7 as part of The Belcourt's "Road Movies of the '70s & '80s" series; also showing, a late-night double bill Aug. 5-6 of National Lampoon's Vacation and Pee Wee's Big Adventure) JS

ALSO SHOWING

The weekend's must-see movie, Errol Morris' crazier-than-fiction documentary Tabloid, opens Friday at The Belcourt. (Will its sex-bomb subject Joyce McKinney show up unannounced in the theater, as she has in some other cities?) At Hollywood 27: Chris Weitz's immigrant drama A Better Life. At Green Hills: Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor in Beginners. Everywhere: Rise of the Planet of the Apes — could it possibly be as good as the trailer? If not, hurl your own poo!

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