An NYFF regular from relatively early in his career, Hou Hsiao-hsien made his seventh festival appearance with this ravishingly beautiful chamber drama that follows the intertwined fortunes and intrigues of four “flower girls” serving in the opulent brothels of fin-de-siècle 19th-century Shanghai. The great Tony Leung Chiu Wai (Happy Together, In the Mood for Love) stars as the melancholy Master Wang, torn between his affections for the jealous, demanding Crimson (Michiko Hada) and the more eager-to-please Jasmine (Vicky Wei), and gradually realizing that he is looking for love in all the wrong places. In Hou’s first film set outside of his native Taiwan, the artificial decor is Sternbergian, as are the long-buried passions and masked despair of the beautiful people who meet in the brothel's airless compartments—each with a pool of golden lamplight at its center—to measure out their lives in gambling, saki cups, rich food and pipes of opium.

“At once a tale of sexual intrigue and a portrait of a patriarchal culture, this exquisite Eastern chamber-piece is as radiant as Vermeer, as refined as Henry James, as deadly as Dangerous Liaisons.” —NYFF36 program note

“[An] emotionally shattering masterpiece…Flowers of Shanghai is one of the most sublimely beautiful films I‘ve ever seen, and one of the most unbearably sad. To watch these characters break one another’s hearts, and then to have your own broken, is to experience something that the movies rarely grant us–perfection.” —Manohla Dargis, LA Weekly

“With Shanghai, his first genuine period picture, Hou has refined realism into the ultimate artifice, has demonstrated that the elusive bloom of love that persists in all his bleak melodramas is inevitably crushed by our elaborate means of possessing it. But as a final, cryptic image of a man and a woman and an opium pipe suggests, these flowers are perennials.” —Peter Keough, The Boston Phoenix