Flowers of Shanghai 1998
Hou Hsiao-Hsien is arguably the greatest Taiwanese filmmaker of all time. He’s definitely the director who has had the most influence on a global scale, especially during the 1980s and 1990s, striving to tell tales of his homeland. This focus won him the Golden Lion at Venice for City of Sadness. He’s made many remarkable films, including The Puppetmaster, The Assassin and Millennium Mambo. Flowers of Shanghai is one of his best.

In 19th century Shanghai, ‘flower houses’ were popular with the wealthy classes. They housed high-class courtesans who have been trained since childhood to cater to the sensibilities of their rich male clients. The taciturn Master Wang (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) is livid as he believes Crimson (Michiko Hada), his long-term mistress, is having an affair with a younger man. When she refuses his hand in marriage he turns to the younger Jade (Shuan Fang) from a rival house.

Flowers of Shanghai is a visually sumptuous tale of love, power and jealousy, taking place in these secretive ‘golden prisons’. Indeed, it’s a public show of emotion that is a trigger for much of the drama. Set within the constraints of four ‘houses’, it feels like you’re observing the goings on of a clandestine world. Whilst rich men squabble and bicker the courtesans have no option but to try and find a willing patron to pay back their debts. Flowers of Shanghai is a sumptuous and opulent tale which is bathed in glorious colours.

Director: Hsiao-hsien Hou
Cast: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Michiko Hada, Michelle Reis, Carina Lau, Jack Kao, Rebecca Pan, Vicky Wei, Hsuan Fang, Annie Shizuka Inoh, Ming Hsu, An-an Hsu
Country: Taiwan, Japan
Genre: Drama

BD50, DVD9 | 1080p AVC, NTSC | 01:54:14 | 44.9 Gb, 7.45 Gb + 3% rec
Language: Shanghainese and Cantonese
Subtitles: English


Tony Rayns (HD; 28:26) is an interesting introduction to the film by Rayns produced by Criterion in 2021. He offers quite a bit of background information, not just on the film itself, but also Hou Hasio-Hsien in general as well as the source novel and its unusual use of the Wu dialect.

Hou Hsiao-Hsien (HD; 13:16) is a 2015 interview with the director conducted in Los Angeles as part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science's Visual History Program Collection.

Beautified Realism (HD; 37:06) is another 2021 production from Criterion, this time a well done documentary by Daniel Raim and Eugene Suen focusing on the film's production. This includes a lot of behind the scenes footage (some sourced from some pretty ragged looking archival video) along with some good interviews.

Trailer (HD; 1:38)