After a long line of films interrogating Taiwan’s past and present, Hou Hsiao-hsien turned to 19th-century China, adapting Han Bangqing’s late Qing novel on the upscale brothels of Shanghai’s foreign concessions. Denied permission to shoot in the city itself, Hou made his film entirely in a studio — befitting the cloistered, microcosmic world of the courtesans and their patrons — and reduced the novel’s sprawling cast to a handful of central characters. Cantonese civil servant Wang has hit a rough patch with long-term companion Crimson and looks to her younger rival Laelia; haughty Emerald (Michelle Reis) connives with Luo to buy out her contract; and up-and-coming Jade resists experienced elder courtesan Pearl, and has a liason with the naive Zhu Shuren. These relationships — governed by strict codes of money and power — are conveyed in appropriately sensual yet rigorous style: carefully choreographed camerawork by Lee Ping-bin, a minimal editing scheme (37 shots, each bracketed by fades), and haunting leitmotifs from composer Hanno Yoshihiro.
Directed by Hsiao-hsien Hou | Starring : Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Carina Lau, Michelle Reis, Hada Michiko, Jack Kao | Presented at Cannes Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, Vancouver Film Festival, Chicago Film Festival, Taipei Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Mar del Plata Film Festival, Kerala Film Festival, Auckland Film Festival, Buenos Aires Film Festival, Thessaloniki Film Festival