Flowers of Shanghai (Hai shang hua) (1998)



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Movie Info

Shanghai, the 1880s, four elegant brothels (flower houses): each has an auntie (the 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 Chekov 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 Luo, a patron. 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.


Critic Reviews for Flowers of Shanghai (Hai shang hua)

All Critics (10) | Top Critics (2)

The film opens with a brilliant seven-minute take; the languid yet precise cinematography throughout gives it the seductive power of a drug-induced dream.

Nov 14, 2013 | Full Review…

It's beautiful to look at, but you must have patience to enjoy it.

Apr 30, 2004 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Flowers of Shanghai is a beautiful, tantalizingly oblique, and thoroughly hypnotic film, a work so sensual that one can nearly smell the perfume wafting from the screen.

Aug 21, 2009 | Full Review…

Sympathetically depicts ... consuming, love-sick ennui.

May 3, 2005 | Rating: B+ | Full Review…

Each scene of Flowers is like an exquisite and decorous mural, worth studying.

Jan 15, 2005 | Rating: A

It probably isn't Hou's best film, but perhaps it is his prettiest.

Mar 5, 2002 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Flowers of Shanghai (Hai shang hua)

A gorgeous-looking film with a beautiful art direction and a camera that appears to glide through the sumptuous spaces and rooms of those four brothels in 38 stunning long takes, making it feel almost like a travel in time to the atmospheric Shanghai of the end of the 19th century.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

Multiple viewings in a theater setting MIGHT get this more stars. ... could also induce suicide.

Bob Stinson
Bob Stinson

Super Reviewer

moving very slowly from one blackout scene to the next, beautifully shot in the candlelit rooms of various brothels of the 19th century, flowers of shanghai explores the intrigues of 'flower girls' or courtesans, sold as children into a life little better than slavery. there's alot of drinking, gambling and opium smoking and the film requires a good deal of patience. i probably need to watch it again as i felt as though i had smoked opium myself afterward

Stella Dallas
Stella Dallas

Super Reviewer


Hou Hsiao Hsien's play-like story of a famed brothel (Flower House) in Shanghai is a study of manners in late 19-century China. Sublimely restrained in parts, the opening sequences introducing each courtesan (flower girl) is exquisite and captivating... but I have to admit that I fell asleep in parts and it is pretty slow. The dubbing of Crimson's character also bothered me a fair bit. I loved Pearl and Emerald though, and I wish we could have seen more of Carina Lau's lovely, calm performance of the daughter of the house. Michelle Reis is great fun as the brash, arrogant, independent courtesan, so different from the other meek girls. Too many drinking game scenes! Beautiful score though, and Tony Leung is good although not spectacular. However, I did really love how Flowers... felt like a play in the theatre, from its fades in and out to its static mise-en-scene, but incorporated some great close-up shots of Crimson and Wang sitting quietly, etc. Worth another watch, but not anytime soon.

Krystle Chow
Krystle Chow

Super Reviewer

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