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 said it was “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 the previous night’s and a preview of the next. 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 Hsiao-hsien’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.