The camera never ventures outside, but remains fixed on the action at the table, gliding languidly past the same sepia-toned tableau: In the film's universe, people are indistinguishable and the setting never changes. Hou does succeed in one key respect: His films evokes opium addiction, a narcotic delirium fading into a dreamless sleep.
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Flowers of Shanghai operates on the whole much like Yoshihiro’s music, filling your senses like a thick haze, holding you rapt without petitioning for your attention.
Gorgeously mounted, but butt-numbingly slow.
Hou Hsiao-hsien is one of the masters of world cinema, and Flowers of Shanghai represents a shift for him. Stunning and hypnotic, it's his first period piece. [07 Apr 2000]
Lavish in its depiction of surfaces -- clothing, furniture, lighting fixtures -- Flowers of Shanghai proves deficient in its revelation of inner lives.
A ravishing portrait of Shanghai brothel life in the late 19th Century, shot entirely in one-take scenes in luxuriant red-and-gold interior sets. [02 Oct 1998, p.J]
Flowers Of Shanghai is concerned with the commodification of sex and its hurtful consequences, but Hou leaves the perversion and beatings off-screen. What remains is a succession of tableaux so vividly realized in purely cinematic terms that the emotions seem to waft from the screen like smoke.