After his masterful series of films about the history of Taiwan, in Flowers of Shanghai Hou Hsiao-hsien turns his gaze to a fascinating saga from Chinese history. The Chinese authorities at the time of the Qing dynasty - in the late 19th century - banned its civil servants from visiting brothels but had no say over foreign concessions. So the male elite was often to be found in the elegant brothels in the British concession. These so-called 'flower houses' were mainly used for social purposes. The rules in this complex society, apparently unchanging and cut off from the outside world, gavewomen the power of choice. Marriages frequently ensued.Hou's film pursues two narrative lines. Civil servant Wang (Tony Leung) breaks with Crimson (Michiko Hada) when he finds out that she has another lover. In addition, an old libertine and a cynical flower girl conspire to take advantage of a failed suicide attempt. The leading roles are played by stars of Asian cinema such as Annie Shizuko Inoh, Michelle Reis, Jack Kao and Carina Lau.Each scene - apart from a single crucial one - comprises just one shot in which the camera moves first to the left and then to the right, over beautiful costumes and through the opulent candle-lit interior. With incredible precision, Hou manages to communicate to the viewer the distorted view of time that ruled in the flower houses - and much more than that.

Original title
Hai shan hua
Filmmaker
Hou Hsiao-hsien
Premiere
-
Country
Taiwan, Japan
Year
1998
Medium
35mm
Length
124’
Language
Mandarin
Producer
3H Productions Limited, SHOCHIKU BROADCASTING CO., LTD., Ichiyama Shozo, Yang Teng-kuei
Sales
ARP
Cast
Tony Leung, Michiko Hada