Flowers of Shanghai
(Hai shang hua)
Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Michiko Hada, Carina Lau, Michele Reis, Jack Kao,
To say that Flowers of Shanghai was well received by critics is to gild the lily, throw a perfume on the violet. Phillip Lopate called it “perfect, and one of the most beautiful films ever made”; Chuck Stephens, “one of the greatest films of all time.” In a Shanghai brothel circa 1890, an intimate dinner gambling party is going on, obviously a continuation of last night’s, and a preview of tomorrow’s. Here, men with money spend time away from arranged marriages and (presumably) a world outside, with women who have been bred and raised to love them. Of course, it’s not that simple; in fact, it’s not simple at all. Hou’s normally still camera languorously, almost imperceptibly moves, as we observe relationships played out in eyeline matches and subtle gestures—relationships that will unfold in their strange, internecine complexity over the next two hours. Fueled by opium on one side and economic need on the other, love blossoms, climbs and strangles, withers. Particularly affecting are sad-eyed Tony Leung as Master Wang, and Michiko Hada as Crimson, the courtesan from whom he seems to be drifting . . . or is he?