Flowers of Shanghai is set in the brothels of Shanghai in the late 19th century and follows the lives of the courtesans and their patrons. The drama flows from quiet conversation to conversation as the women look to the men they love to help them toward the lives they desire. It’s a quiet and opulent drama that relies heavily on the subtle acting touches of its cast, including Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Michiko Hada, Carina Lau and Michelle Reis. The film requires patience, which I guess I lacked.
I could not connect with the film, which simply feels like a relic of a different era — as do many dramas that made a big splash on the awards circuit but quietly fade into a realm of relative obscurity decades later. Perhaps it awed at the time. I was not wowed now. The Criterion release is a gorgeous package, though, featuring a new remaster. I recommend it for anyone who loves this movie or may love this movie.
For those interested in purchasing it, the included essay by Jean Ma is incredibly informative and an excellent complement to the movie. There are a number of other excellent special features, including interviews, commentary and a new introduction to the film.