Saturday, June 4, 2011

Flowers of Shanghai

Hsiao-hsien Hou, Taiwan, 1998 (7.8*)
Without a lot of action, Hou paints a picture of life in upper-class brothels in Shanghai in the 1880's. The courtesans were known as "flower girls", hence the title. They were often bought as little girls, and kept in the house as servants until of age to go into the trade. Many never rose above servitude to become successful courtesans. In this tale, we see all types, but the stories center on several courtesans in their prime, and reveal to us all their gossip, conniving, and scheming.

Meanwhile, the clientele basically does little more than play drinking games and remain noncommital regarding taking better care of their mistresses. Many characters pass through the houses, yet Hou focuses on just key moments and conversations. Tony Leung is the best known of these actors.

The movie never leaves the internal rooms of the flower houses, and you feel a sense of the social circumstances that ensnares all the characters, whether they're patrons or the purchased. The cinematography is beautiful, as are the women, shot in the low-lighting of the interiorr spaces, very reminiscent of that in Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, shot in candlelight, with the same color palette as Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love.

Probably not the most involving of Hou's films, but one worth seeing nonetheless. It is ranked #898 on our compendium of all film polls


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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