Flowers of Shanghai
Dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien | 1998 | NR | 113 min
Taiwan | In Cantonese and Shanghainese with English subtitles.
An intoxicating, time-bending experience bathed in the golden glow of oil lamps and wreathed in an opium haze, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s gorgeous period reverie traces the romantic intrigue, jealousies, and tensions swirling around a late 19th century Shanghai brothel, where the courtesans live confined to a gilded cage, ensconced in opulent splendor yet forced to work to buy back their freedom. Among the regular clients is the taciturn Master Wang (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), whose relationship with his longtime mistress (Michiko Hada) is roiled by a perceived act of betrayal. Composed in a procession of entrancing long takes, Flowers evokes a vanished world of decadence and cruelty, an insular universe where much of the dramatic action remains tantalizingly offscreen—even as its emotional fallout registers with quiet devastation.