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Flowers of Shanghai (上海花) is a Taiwanese movie directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien (who later made Three Times) and released in 1998. Adapted from a Chinese novel from the turn of the 20th century, it focuses on the lives of several "flowers" (i.e. high-class courtesans) in the brothels of Shanghai in the late 19th century.
The movie is mostly non-narrative, consisting of a series of tableaus, with most of what little action takes place remaining off-screen. Similarly, while a fair bit of talking is done, the really important things are never spoken out loud.
The male patrons come to the flower houses for a good time, which involves eating, drinking, being pampered by attentionate courtesans, and of course sex. The girls, meanwhile, vie for their attention, and either attempt to become a given client's favorite in order to be taken up as a second wife, or save money to buy up their own contract. The world they all live in is one of illusion and manipulation.
Features examples of:
- Band of Brothels: The courtesans.
- Chinese Dialects and Accents: The characters speak in the local Shanghai dialect rather than standard Mandarin.
- Fade to Black: Every scene systematically ends that way.
- Gorgeous Period Dress
- High Class Call Girl: The "flowers" aren't common prostitutes, but expensive courtesans catering to an exclusive clientele of rich and well-connected men.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Averted. The courtesans are calculating and manipulative, and those who believe in "true love" are chastised by their peers for their gullibility.