Monday, December 10, 2007

Hai shang hua (Hsiao-hsien Hou, 1998) aka Flowers of Shanghai

Flowers of Shanghai (Hsiao-hsien Hou, 1998)
Rating: 8.8

Flowers of Shanghai is an ensemble period piece taking place in the opulent brothels, referred to as flower houses, in late 19th century China. Hou's meticulous style and pacing has never been more appropriate than it is here, as the stunning mise en scene, cinematography, fade in/out editing transitions, music, and long drifting camera master shots all mesh together perfectly to evoke a seductive mood. Hou's direction excellently balances the screen time of the many characters, alternating between the group scenes where men gamble and drink, and more intimate scenes between the courtesans and the mistresses. The men are rich and hypocritical and the women are manipulative and greedy. Some of the flower girls earn their freedom, some marry, while others die trying to distinguish the blurred lines between love, lust, and lies. The claustrophobic nature of the film is also worth noting as the film consists of only interior shots. Despite the beauty of the brothels they are much like a prison in many regards. The indentured servants are owned and bound financially to the brothel, while the gentleman callers are contractually obligated to their flower girls, while no one is free from the addiction of opium.

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