Newest Reviews
American Fiction
Poor Things
Legend of the Bat
Party Line
Night Fright
Pacha, Le
Assemble Insert
Venus Tear Diamond, The
Beauty's Evil Roses, The
Free Guy
Huck and Tom's Mississippi Adventure
Rejuvenator, The
Who Fears the Devil?
Guignolo, Le
Batman, The
Land of Many Perfumes
Cat vs. Rat
Tom & Jerry: The Movie
Naked Violence
Joyeuses Pacques
Strangeness, The
How I Became a Superhero
Golden Nun
Incident at Phantom Hill
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City
Maigret Sets a Trap
Hell's Wind Staff, The
Topo Gigio and the Missile War
Battant, Le
Penguin Highway
Cazadore de Demonios
Imperial Swordsman
Newest Articles
3 From Arrow Player: Sweet Sugar, Girls Nite Out and Manhattan Baby
Little Cat Feat: Stephen King's Cat's Eye on 4K UHD
La Violence: Dobermann at 25
Serious Comedy: The Wrong Arm of the Law on Blu-ray
DC Showcase: Constantine - The House of Mystery and More on Blu-ray
Monster Fun: Three Monster Tales of Sci-Fi Terror on Blu-ray
State of the 70s: Play for Today Volume 3 on Blu-ray
The Movie Damned: Cursed Films II on Shudder
The Dead of Night: In Cold Blood on Blu-ray
Suave and Sophisticated: The Persuaders! Take 50 on Blu-ray
Your Rules are Really Beginning to Annoy Me: Escape from L.A. on 4K UHD
A Woman's Viewfinder: The Camera is Ours on DVD
Chaplin's Silent Pursuit: Modern Times on Blu-ray
The Ecstasy of Cosmic Boredom: Dark Star on Arrow
A Frosty Reception: South and The Great White Silence on Blu-ray
You'll Never Guess Which is Sammo: Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon on Blu-ray
Two Christopher Miles Shorts: The Six-Sided Triangle/Rhythm 'n' Greens on Blu-ray
Not So Permissive: The Lovers! on Blu-ray
Uncomfortable Truths: Three Shorts by Andrea Arnold on MUBI
The Call of Nostalgia: Ghostbusters Afterlife on Blu-ray
Moon Night - Space 1999: Super Space Theater on Blu-ray
Super Sammo: Warriors Two and The Prodigal Son on Blu-ray
Sex vs Violence: In the Realm of the Senses on Blu-ray
What's So Funny About Brit Horror? Vampira and Bloodbath at the House of Death on Arrow
Keeping the Beatles Alive: Get Back
  Flowers of Shanghai Prisoners
Year: 1998
Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Stars: Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Michiko Hada, Michelle Reis, Carina Lau, Jack Kao, Rebecca Pan, Fang Hsuan, Annie Shizuka Inoh, Hsu Ming
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: In 19th Century China, Shanghai to be exact, the system of courtesans is still well in effect, and in this high-class brothel there are a selection of women who are not allowed to stray from the business, having been bought from their families at a tender age to serve as prostitutes to the wealthy men who attend such establishments. Today those men are simply enjoying each other's company as the women wait on them hand and foot, providing them with all the drink they could want, and of course the supply of opium is generous, so that even the courtesans partake of it...

Director Hou Hsiao-Hsien was already a fairly big name on the international scene before he made Flowers of Shanghai, and domestically he was doing even better, much respected as one of the leaders of Taiwan's new wave cinema movement that was by that time moving into its next phase. He continued to be respected with this chamber drama that was set exclusively within the ornate walls of a brothel for the well-off men who could afford it, and more importantly afford to keep one particular woman to their liking in a kind of trapped luxury, where they could have whatever they wanted, except freedom.

Although this was taking place in a business where having sex with the clients was the main reason the wealthy men patronised its facilities, we did not see any of that here, indeed the subject was barely mentioned, which some may have said was akin to a drama set in an abattoir where not only does nobody points out animals are slaughtered there, but the matter is never discussed. Nevertheless, we were well aware the women we were watching were sex slaves and had no rights under the Chinese law of the day, therefore there was a muted but still present strain of feminist outrage about the situation they had found themselves in.

Through no fault of their own, it had to be pointed out: there was no willingness to be part of this lifestyle, they were sold into this slavery to pay off debts or provide an income for their families or owners. As we see, the only way they can escape is to buy their freedom, except it is not in the interest of the brothel owners to allow that, and they discourage it, so when, as occurs around the midpoint of what loosely passes for a story here, one courtesan has a chance to get away, it is purely because her preferred client wants to buy her contract, if you like. One could question whether this is effectively swapping one form of slavery for another, for she will be in debt to the man who liberated her.

Though there was a degree of visual sumptuousness to what we were watching, we were always recognising that no matter the lap of luxury that the brothel represented, it was also a prison, therefore with its rich colouring of reds and yellows mixed with deep shadows, it was an oppressive experience to spend two hours in the company of these characters. The men shot the breeze with each other, gambled and drank and retired to private rooms for their sexual favours, while the women were polite, indulgent but only occasionally rebellious, knowing it was more than their lives were worth to object to being objects. The lure of the opium pipe helps them through the days and nights of soul-crushing boredom, and when, late on, a prostitute attempts a suicide pact with a client that he had not agreed to, it's a sudden strike back against a system that quickly regroups and returns to normality. We hear about regular beatings, we see these women have no agency, nothing to save them from a life of abuse, and the conclusion is one of dejection and shame that this is a situation organised by men to suit men. Music by Yoshihiro Hanno and Tu Duu-Chih.

[The Criterion Collection release this on Blu-ray with the following special features:

New 4K digital restoration, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New introduction by critic Tony Rayns
Beautified Realism, a new documentary by Daniel Raim and Eugene Suen on the making of the film, featuring behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Mark Lee Ping-bing, producer and editor Liao Ching-sung, production designer Hwarng Wern-ying, and sound recordist Tu Duu-chih
Excerpts from a 2015 interview with Hou, recorded as part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Oral History Projects
English subtitle translation by Rayns
PLUS: An essay by film scholar Jean Ma and a 2009 interview with Hou conducted by scholar Michael Berry.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


This review has been viewed 1559 time(s).

As a member you could Rate this film

Review Comments (0)

Untitled 1

Forgotten your details? Enter email address in Username box and click Reminder. Your details will be emailed to you.

Latest Poll
Which star probably has psychic powers?
Laurence Fishburne
Nicolas Cage
Anya Taylor-Joy
Patrick Stewart
Sissy Spacek
Michelle Yeoh
Aubrey Plaza
Tom Cruise
Beatrice Dalle
Michael Ironside

Recent Visitors
Enoch Sneed
  Louise Hackett
Darren Jones
Mark Le Surf-hall
Andrew Pragasam
Mary Sibley
Graeme Clark
  Desbris M


Last Updated: