Flowers of Shanghai

1998 [CHINESE]


Plot summary

Uploaded by: FREEMAN

Top cast

Tony Chiu Wai Leung Photo
Tony Chiu Wai Leung as Wang Lingsheng
720p.BLU 1080p.BLU
1.02 GB
Chinese 2.0
23.976 fps
1 hr 54 min
P/S 1 / 6
2.11 GB
Chinese 5.1
23.976 fps
1 hr 54 min
P/S 3 / 7

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by rch4276 / 10

Evocative but empty

First, a disclaimer: I love so-called "art films", from Cocteau and Eisenstein to David Lynch and Krystof Kieslowski. I have a long attention span and am willing to extend considerable effort towards appreciating any work of art.

Having said that, The Flowers of Shanghai was largely a disappointment. Yes, the sets and costuming are sumptuous. True, the mood evoked by the film is seductive. And the subject matter--the relationships between courtesans and their clients--is at least provocative. But for a number of reasons, Hou fails to deliver a film that rises above those elements.

The reasons are many. First, the plot is minimal--hardly compelling--mostly relying upon the petty machinations between the courtesans and the clients who try not to become too involved with them. But such a minimal plot can only engage if we become involved in the characters, and this is very difficult to do.

That's problem number two: the characters simply aren't compelling. The men tend to be equivocal and emotionally distant. The women tend to be shallow and manipulative. Since there are essentially no close-up shots, and the physical expressions are very restrained, we have no sense of people's emotional states. There is not one character that we can really care about.

Third: the editing is leisurely. Really leisurely. Glacial. Very few directors can pull off a five minute interior shot with almost no dialogue or action; Ozu was one. But Hou--although better than many contemporary directors--isn't up to Ozu's level by a long shot. Hou's scenes, unlike Ozu's, don't so much engender our contemplation as they engender tedium. A director has to be able to recognize when a scene has come to the end of its life; this he doesn't seem to be able to do.

A note to the curious: every shot in this film is an interior shot; you never see the outdoors--not even the sky through the windows. And despite the subject matter and the warnings of adult content on the box, there are no sex scenes; there is no nudity. Structure-wise, the film depicts three activities: men playing "rock, paper, scissors" around a table, people having their little dramas in private, and people brooding.

That's basically it.

I would like to be able to say that The Flowers of Shanghai was more than just a 2-hours-plus visual curiosity, but it simply isn't. And more the shame because of its wasted potential.

Reviewed by MOscarbradley10 / 10

One of the greatest films ever made.

Shot entirely in a series of single takes, Hsiao-Hsien Hou's "Flowers of Shanghai" is set in the flower houses, (brothels),of 19th century Shanghai and the flowers are the courtesans. The film, based on the novel by Bangqing Han. Is a sumptuous, leisurely portrait of life there, comprising mostly of petty squabbles between the girls over their 'gentlemen callers'. In dramatic terms not a great deal happens. Hou's slowly moving camera becomes an interloper, picking up snatches of dialogue and conversations between the girls and their patrons, the subject almost always involving money; sex is conspiculously absent, at least on-screen. Eating and drinking seem to be the predominant pasttimes.

Superbly acted and directed and stunningly photographed and designed this magnificent film has already figured in polls of the greatest films ever made. 'Pure cinema' in the very best sense of the term and yet it could just as easily exist on the stage, (there are no exterior shots). Midway through it flirts with melodrama as movies involving jealousy are prone to do but Hou keeps even this at arm's length. It would appear that emotions in China are more restrained than some of those high-kicking action films might suggest. Gorgeous and surprisingly moving and with a surprising streak of humour, this is one of the greatest of all period films. A masterpiece.

Reviewed by zetes9 / 10

A visual feast

I don't like Hou Hsiao-Hsien much. He's not a very well known director, but those who do know him often praise him as if he were Christ risen on Earth for the second time. It gets very out of hand. I personally liked two of his earlier films, Dust in the Wind and City of Sadness, but found them rather flawed. The other films I've seen of his, A Time to Live and a Time to Die, The Puppetmaster, Good Men Good Women, and Goodbye South Goodbye, are profoundly flawed with only a little worth each. I wasn't too excited to see Flowers from Shanghai, but its gotten such continuous praise, even from those who had seen only it from Hou, that I decided to give it a chance. I'm happy I did. Very happy, indeed.

I had dismissed the burgeoning camera movements in Goodbye South Goodbye as a phony advance in Hou's style. I'm glad I was wrong. In Flowers of Shanghai, Hou effectively pans his camera back and forth and around in spirals in every single shot (and, of course, "shot" in Hou Hsiao-Hsien's vocabulary is a synonym of "scene;" most shots last a very long time). The cinematography, too, is a lot better than it has been (although he has plenty of beautiful shots in his other films, as well). The film seems tinted with gold, and beautiful reds take up most of the space in each frame, until a beautiful blotch of yellow or blue arrives. Mixed with that slowly panning camera (sometimes it's a bit reminiscent of Tarkovsky's shots),that makes for pure sensuousness. It can be simply orgasmic at times. The mise-en-scene is also fabulous. The film takes place in a Shanghai brothel (the "flowers" of the title are the prostitutes),and every inch of the each set is decorated perfectly. And aurally, man, the subtle music is just powerful.

It's all so damn beautiful that I kind of ignored what was happening with the characters on screen. It's so damn beautiful that it's rather easy to forget that there are people acting here; their movements and actions are so elegant (and their language sounds so beautiful) that they might as well be thought of as objects, not people. When I finally started to pay more attention to the plot and the characters, it seemed a bit banal. The story revolves around the prostitutes and their frequent customers. The film says nothing new about the subject, and it comes off a bit trite. I'm hoping that I just didn't follow it well enough, that, if I were to buy the DVD and watch it again, I would feel the emotions more. However, I don't believe that that's true. Although his fanatics would fiecely deny it, Hou has never done very well in expressing emotions in his films. Dust in the Wind and City of Sadness are the best in that respect, but take the cheap melodramatics of A Time to Live a Time to Die in comparison. Or take The Puppetmaster: its cinematography is rather boring, and the film comes off as extremely dull. Luckily, I appreciate direction and visual splendor much more than a good story. If I wanted a good story, books would probably be a better medium. Flowers of Shanghai gets a 9/10 from me. I hope that Hou evolves ever more in the future. His style seems perfected in this film (perhaps he should even scrap his signature style and reinvent himself; just a suggestion). Now he needs some substance. Hopefully he'll work again with Wu Nien-Jen, who wrote his Dust in the Wind and City of Sadness, his most substantial films (he also wrote The Puppetmaster, though). I just saw Wu's own directorial debut, Dou-San, this past weekend and it had an emotionally devastating script. I'll cross my fingers!

Read more IMDb reviews