Intended as the concluding film in the trilogy on the modern history of Taiwan began with Beiqing Chengshi (1989), this film reveals the story through three levels: a film within a film as ... See full summary »
Ah-Ching and his friends have just finished school in their island fishing village, and now spend most of their time drinking and fighting. Three of them decide to go to the port city of ... See full summary »
In Shanghai in the 1880s there are four elegant brothels (flower houses): each has an auntie (called madam), a courtesan in her prime, older servants, and maturing girls in training. The men gather around tables of food, playing drinking games. An opium pipe is at hand. The women live within dark-paneled walls. The atmosphere is stifling, as if Chekhov was in China. The melancholy Wang is Crimson's patron; will he leave her for the younger Jasmin? Emerald schemes to buy her freedom, aided by patron Luo. Pearl, an aging flower, schools the willful Jade, who thinks she has a marriage agreement with young master Zhu. Is she dreaming? Women fade, or connive, or despair.Written by
"Flowers of Shanhai" is a stunningly beautiful film, elegantly visualized and intriguingly scripted. It explores not only the conflicts between individuals, but also issues of gender and class, and the way in which the people in power find their lives eroding under the influence of opium, foreign currency, and the buying and selling of sexual favors and social influence. The intricate connections between older and younger businessmen, older and younger courtesans, masters, mistresses, and servants, and people of differing degrees of wealth and influence, are all examined as prostitutes try to buy their freedom, or find reasons for staying in the brothels even when someone wants to buy their freedom for them, and as both men and women fix themselves on paths to self-destruction.
Calling it too slow paced for a modern audience rather misses the point. Certainly there aren't many car chases or gunfights in it, and if one defines pace only in terms of physical action, it might be fair to call it slow. For audiences with an attention span of longer than 60 seconds and an interest in psychological action rather than physical action, it moves right along. In fact, I found myself having to rewind and view several scenes again because they developed too fast for me to follow as I took in the subtitles. I was very pleased at its lack of Hollywoodism. It's the kind of film "Age of Innocence" might have been if "Age of Innocence" had relied more on acting and less on posing in its cultivation of emotional intensity. In "Flowers of Shanhai," melodramatic action is depicted as a weakness displayed by characters, rather than being exploited as a way of sustaining the audience's interest in a character-based story in which the director has no confidence.
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