Hou Hsaio-hsien is perhaps the greatest of today’s Asian filmmakers when it comes to composing eloquently framed images, and "The Flowers of Shanghai" stands with the most immaculately photographed works of his career. The action takes place about a century ago in a Shanghai bordello, or rather a "flower house" visited by privileged men in search of sex, drugs, carefully prepared food, and a rousing game of mahjong now and then; the muted story centers on the fortunes of certain women who reside there. Hou explores his subject in completely aestheticized terms, shooting each leisurely scene with a gently moving camera that literally caresses the people, places, and objects it passes across. There’s little sense of the physical realities faced by the "flower women" languishing in this male-controlled society, but that is the only substantial shortcoming of this cinematically exquisite work.
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