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Flowers Of Shanghai Criterion Blu-ray Review

“Flowers Of Shanghai” wilts quickly.

Based on the novel by Bangqing Han, 1998’s film adaptation of “Flowers of Shanghai” is an 19th century set anthology of sorts that focuses on various courtesans (AKA Flower girls) of the Shanghai flower houses and a few of the gentlemen callers. The primary story involves the drama between a courtesan named Crimson and a longtime client of hers named Master Wang, but other flower girls such as Pearl, Emerald, Jasmin and Jade have their own sections of the film. Much of the “story” centers around the drama in the flower house, finances, competition, entertaining clients, marriage hopes, and infidelity. 

Upon its release, director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s film “Flowers of Shanghai” developed its fans for peering into the world of courtesans/flower girls and the connections they have with their clients. It sounds provocative to be sure, but nothing sexual is shown here. In fact, not much happens at all. Sometimes less is more, but in the case of ‘Shanghai’ more is really needed. 

While the cinematography, costumes and production values are first rate, ‘Shanghai’ feels too confined and uneventful. More often than not, it feels like you’re watching a play instead of a film due to the limited shot selection, the scene transitions, the fade outs, and the fact that the camera never leaves the flower house. The narrative also does the film a disservice. I wouldn’t mind the free flowing narrative if more actually happened on screen, but as is, there’s not enough characterization here nor is there enough happening story wise. It kind of feels like the events that transpire happen in a circuitous manner.

The cast is all game for their parts, but aside from Tony Chiu-Wai Leung (Master Wang) and Michiko Hada (Crimson) nobody really has enough material to work with.


Presentation: 1.85:1 1080p. How does it look? The 4K digital restoration provides a nice crisp colorful transfer.

Audio Track: Shanghainese and Cantonese 5.1 DTS-HD MA. How does it sound? Expect a clean audio experience.

* “Flowers Of Shanghai” trailer
* A booklet with photos, credits, an essay by author Jean Ma, an interview between Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Michael Berry.
* A new intro by film scholar Tony Rayns.
* A 2015 13 minute interview with director Hou Hsiao-Hsien for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences Visual History Program Collection.
* A new documentary titled “Beautiful Realism” about the making of “Flowers of Shanghai.” Set footage and interviews with crew members are included.

June 7, 2021 - Posted by | Blu-Ray review | ,

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