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Flowers of Shanghai

Digitally restored costume drama by Hou Hsiao-hsien (The Assassin) about the inner lives of five prostitutes in Shanghai around 1880.

Please note that this film is in Cantonese and Shanghainese, with Dutch subtitles.
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At the end of the 19th century, Shanghai is divided into several foreign concessions. In the British concession, a number of luxurious ‘flower houses’ are reserved for the male elite of the city. Since Chinese dignitaries are not allowed to frequent brothels, these establishments are the only ones that these men can visit. They form a self-contained world, with its own rites, traditions and even its own language. The men don’t only visit the houses to frequent the courtesans but also to dine, smoke opium, play mah-jong and relax. The women working there are known as the ‘flowers of Shanghai’.

Tony Leung and other stars of Asian cinema play the lead roles in this visually overwhelming study of the social realities of life for prostitutes at the time of the Qíng dynasty. The filmmaker subtly expresses the emotions of the prostitutes without using too many words, emphasizing their isolation with precise mise-en-scène.

Hou Hsiao-hsien, Japan, Taiwan, 1998, 113 min. Cantonese & Shanghainese spoken, Dutch subtitles. With Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Michiko Hada, Michelle Reis, Carina Lau, Jack Kao.
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