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With Flowers of Shanghai, Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien delivers the opulent world of late-19th-century Chinese courtesans and their suitors miraculously intact. Hou's films are perhaps the most beguiling yet restrained in all of contemporary cinema, and this is no exception. Told as a series of panel-like portraits, the camera discreetly withdraws from raucous dinner parties and drinking games into the muted, jewel-like chambers of various flower girls. The need to procure patrons and eventual husbands from among their visitors lends an increasing air of anxiety to the games of seduction and betrayal played out within. As the young Master Wang (Tony Leung) soon learns, there is scarcely room for love inside this precarious world of decorum, addiction, and greed. Hou's canny ability to place characters so convincingly within a context is the work of a master filmmaker--nothing is ever assumed or contrived. From the stunning opening dinner scene to the resigned finale, Flowers is a seamless vision. --Fionn Meade
A mesmerizing and seductive tale of sexual intrigue (nothing explicit), Flowers Of Shanghai takes place in the elegant brothels of late nineteenth-century Shangai. An insular world with its own highly ritualized codes of behavior, the film traces the destinies of the beautiful "flower girls," whose lives depended on their ability to win, and hold, the affections of their wealthy callers. Starring Hong Kong film star and recording artist, Tony Leung (In The Mood For Love, Hard Boiled), as Master Wang, Flowers of Shanghai was Hou Hsiao-hsein's first film set outside of Taiwan.
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