Hou Hsiao-hsien / JP, TW, 1998 / 113 min.
Hou focuses on the emotional life of five prostitutes at a time when Shanghai was still a British concession. A stylish study of a professional group, starring Tony Leung as a brothel-frequenting civil servant.
Tony Leung and other stars of Asian cinema play the lead roles in this historical drama about British-run brothels in late 19th-century Shanghai. Civil servant and frequent visitor Wang (Tony Leung) observes the social realities of life in these secluded houses. The prostitutes find protectors here, marriages are made, business deals are concluded and there is plenty of opium to go round.
Flowers of Shanghai is a visually overwhelming study of a professional group at the time of the Qíng dynasty. The filmmaker subtly expresses the emotions of the prostitutes without using too many words, emphasizing their isolation with precise mise-en-scène. The camera slowly moves from one end of the room to the other and back again.
Stunning period piece
Immediately after its world premiere, Eye intended to distribute Flowers of Shanghai through its then distribution division NFM/IAF. The film’s release fell through because of legal issues, and it was only screened once at the 1999 International Film Festival Rotterdam. More than twenty years later, the film is now digitally restored, enabling Eye to close a distribution deal. A stunning period piece with sumptuous costumes, magnificent masks and splendid sets, Flowers of Shanghai is a true Previously Unreleased film.
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Screened at prominent national and international festivals, yet never released in Dutch cinemas. Quite unjustly so, Eye Filmmuseum thinks, and so it has once again brought an exceptional selection of films from international festivals to the Netherlands.