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Anthony Nguyen
Anthony Nguyen

Rebellious Flower Movie With Eng [EXCLUSIVE]

I should add that, in the event of some distributor deciding totry Hou out on the general public, I don't think Flowers of Shanghaiwould be the wisest first choice: It is a very difficult and demanding movie,the basic difficulty for Western audiences in identifying characters playedby unfamiliar actors who all have dark hair, are clean-shaven, and roughlythe same height, compounded by the film's extreme subtlety, its complex,elliptical and continuously shifting narrative, and its director'sintransigent refusal to "help" the audience by making obviouspoints, spelling out meanings, telling us what to think of the characters, orcarefully explaining their motivation (which is never simple and perhaps notalways explicable in clumsy words). Were I an entrepreneur, I think I wouldstart with Daughter of the Nile, perhaps because it was the first Hou film Isaw and I was immediately an admirer. Let's face it, all Hou'slater films are difficult, and so are Wong Kar-wai's (can anyoneconfidently assert that s/he has fully understood In the Mood for Love on oneviewing, even on the level of the narrative? I've now watched it threetimes and I'm still learning). If we are to experience these films, wehave first to unlearn the indoctrinations of contemporary Hollywood andbecome active observers rather than passive receptacles, noticing even thesmallest details, pondering their significance, making thematic connectionsbeyond those of narrative, reaching our own decisions rather than having themfoisted on us. These films are not bags of popcorn to swallow, digest, expeland forget, but works to live with for the rest of our lives.

Rebellious Flower Movie With Eng

There is not a single exterior in the entire film, set entirelywithin the upclass brothels (known as "flowerhouses") of Shanghaiin the late 19th century, all the prostitutes (or "flower girls")deprived of their real names and rechristened after colours("Crimson"), flowers ("Jasmin") or precious orsemiprecious stones ("Pearl", "Jade","Emerald"). With a single exception, we never learn their realnames, and though they occasionally go outside their flowerhouses we arenever shown it. This alone establishes the film's claustrophobicatmosphere, which we are to share throughout, identifying us (if with anyone)with the women, whose behaviour we shall probably find sometimes alienating.(The men can come and go at will and have some kind of external existence;the women go out, if at all, only with their clients).

The phrase "patriarchal capitalism" has become(necessarily) so common as to risk losing its force, even its meaning, whichis quite precise: Some readers will respond "Oh, not again!"; forothers it will be a standard, automatic expression, its force dissipated byoverfamiliarity. It is important, then (with Hou's film always in mind),to attempt to revive that force by insisting upon the implications of eachword. "Patriarchal": In a world dominated and controlled by men whohave made and continue to enforce its laws, women can gain power, and acertain limited and ambiguous control over their destinies (in, for example,politics, business or the educational system), only by submitting to thoselaws, working within instead of against them, fixing themselves in themasculine position. The Women's Movement of the 60s/70s, for all itsinspirational energy, has not changed this situation essentially, thedominant ideology having made some show of compromise, allowing more women(like the "Aunties" of Flowers of Shanghai) into positions of powerwithin the system so long as they continue to obey its basic laws.Women's other means of access to power has always been their sexuality,the film's "flower houses" neatly embodying this by offeringsex as commodity for the acquisition of wealth. The flowerhouse"Aunties" (we would call them "Madams"), and to a lesserdegree the "flower girls" themselves, gain a certain degree ofcontrol in the patriarchal capitalist world by amassing the money the menspend (but they also have to spend much of it on "lookingbeautiful" and, indeed, on looking expensive, so that the men feelthey're getting their money's worth), the irony being that thispower is entirely dependent upon men and the male control of wealth in thelarger world outside, and is wielded entirely in men's service."Capitalism": Power equals money, the acquisition of wealth for itsown sake becomes the ultimate, overriding pursuit; without wealth there is nopower. Hence capitalism's basis in perpetual competition (whereas anysane, decent culture would base itself upon cooperation and mutual help); aworld of continuous oneupmanship, of dogeat-dog, in which essential humanimpulse is corrupted at its root. No one can survive within a capitalistculture without a degree of contamination (which is why Flowers of Shanghaican have no fully sympathetic, wholly admirable character), which will ofcourse vary enormously according to the evolution of consciousness. For many,from richest to poorest, from tycoon to street beggar, transcending allclasses, the capitalist ethos has become completely naturalized, thecompetititive impulse (inscribed as instinct) automatic.

The four men who will figure in the film's various narrativelines (all concerning their relationships with "flower girls") areseated at or near the head of the table, not quite symmetrically. The camera,though constantly mobile (there are many reframings) hovers around the farend, so that the most important characters remain in (variable) longshot. Thefifth significant figure, of no subsequent dramatic importance, is the one towhom we are brought closest, near the camera screen left; he"speaks" the characteristic cynicism of the social milieu,establishing it at the outset, maliciously ridiculing a couple who, againstthe unwritten rules, appear to have fallen seriously in love and becomeinseparable. Of the other four, the elderly Master Hong, the father-figfure,is introduced controlling and organizing the game, just as he will laterpreside over various subsequent transactions (all involving money) among the"flowers", their "Aunties" and their customers. (Wegradually discover that extended relatio nships--a few months or so--are notuncommon, and even marriage is not unknown, although the "flower"is most unlikely to be "first wife", but all of these arecharacterized by money transactions and a sense of convenience. Some of thelater conversation during the game revolves around the question of whether a"flower" with a semi-permanent partner can legitimately go withother men while her main client continues to visit her, an unresolved issuethat will become crucial in the development of the film's centralrelationship). In contrast to the eldest, the youngest (here called by thefamiliar "Yufu", establishing his junior status, subsequently youngMaster Zhu) is a new initiate, innocent, fresh, unspoiled, but eager to learnthe ways of his experienced seniors, losing every round of the game when heenters it but reacting with good humour, delighted to be entering the worldof real men. A young woman beside him (from genuine concern?--because shewants to ingratiate herself with a prospective "caller"?-- theambiguity is central to the film's thematic) prevents him from drinkingtoo much. The least emphasized (he plays the smallest part in the subsequentdevelopments) is Master Luo, placed somewhat lower down the table, cameraleft.

Then, finally, above Luo at the head, there is Master Wang, whostands out for three reasons: because he doesn't speak a single wordthroughout or join in the game or the laughter; because he withdraws, stillsilent, about three-quarters through the shot; and because he is Tony LeungChiu-wai who, if we have any extensive familiarity with Asian cinema, weshall identify as readily as we would Gary Grant or John Wayne, despite thefact that, unlike Grant or Wayne, his persona differs drastically from filmto film, from his young policeman in Chungking Express to his repressedbusinessman in In the Mood for Love, or from his idealistic young mute inCity of Sadness to his weary and disillusioned gay lover in Happy Together.The lighting of the first fade-in ensures that Leung's is the first facewe make out clearly. He is clearly one of the screen's great actors, hisexpressive face here establishing a complex character without resort todialogue and whilst he remains an apparently insignificant member of an ensemble, never singled out by close-up. Wang is onlooker rather thanparticipant (not just in the game but in the ethos); unlike all the others heappears troubled, preoccupied, withdrawn, even while a vague smile (automaticresponse) hovers on his lips to establish his membership of the milieu; heclearly disapproves of the pervasive cynicism, the callous attitudes to the"flower girls"; his sadness and disturbance seem both personal(confirmed when he leaves the room and the shot and we learn from theconversation that he is involved in a difficult and complex triangularrelationship) and more-than-personal, a response to the society in which heis trapped. If Wang emerges as the film's conscience, it is an impotentconscience: He cannot change anything, and is unable even to resolve hispersonal problems in any decisive or satisfactory way. What distinguishes himis precisely his awareness, and we might recall that the French"conscience" combines the two meanings in one.

Zhu/Jade. From his introduction the initiate, young Zhu, is thefilm's most obviously likable character, attractive in his exuberance,his wide-eyed excitement; similarly Jade (not quite an "initiate"in the world of the flowerhouses, but a relative newcomer, demonstrably tornbetween impulses of rebellion and a desire to accept without question theadvice of her more experienced superior, Pearl) is the most obviouslyappealing of the film's flower girls (though not the one who engages thedeepest emotions). We are not allowed to witness their meeting, their mutualattraction, the scene of their engagement and suicide pact in the event ofthe frustration of their desires, so we can never be entirely sure of thedegree of authentic commitment on either side--only that they are young,retain a certain (not quite calculable) degree of idealism, alongside apreconditioned readiness to be accepted in the world their elders alreadyinhabit. That the commitment was, at most, precarious becomes clear fromlater devel opments, where their reactions appear as ambiguous to them asthey are to the spectator. Zhu has had a 'respectable' marriagearranged for him; Jade has prepared twin cups of poison for them to drink. Isshe trying to force him, certain he will refuse the poison? Does she reallymean to go through with the pact? When he dutifully, calmly repeats theirpromises, has he realized he never really meant them? The balancing act Houperforms here seems to me quite extraordinary: I am forced to recall the manytimes in my life, the many decisions, the many statements and promises, when,in recollection, I have no idea of the degree of my sincerity, and I doubtwhether I am unique in this. I have never seen this realized on film before,as much by elisions as by what is shown. And the moment when she forces himto drink, and drinks herself: Does she know, in her heart, that they will besaved? Does she really intend to die, and that he should die too? Our senseof the confusion of impulse is crucial: The doubt, the un certainty, becomesthe mark of the end of innocence, the transition to integration in thesystem.


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