Screened as part of NZIFF 2021

Flowers of Shanghai 1998

Hai shang hua

Directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien Bill Gosden Tribute

The 1980s were an invigorating time to be running an international film festival, not least because of a number of emergent ‘new’ national cinemas, New Zealand’s among them. Bill Gosden, who was promoted to programme director in 1982, was deeply enamoured with Taiwanese cinema during this decade, and the films of Hou Hsiao-hsien especially.

A master of capturing ordinary everyday life, often through beautiful long takes filled with the most exquisite detail, we’ve selected one of Hou’s most celebrated features for this tribute, in a stunning restoration that elevates the richness and incandescence of its late Qing dynasty drama to new heights.

Nov 11

Embassy Theatre

Nov 13

Embassy Theatre

Japan / Taiwan In Cantonese and Shanghainese with English subtitles
113 minutes


Tony Leung Chiu-Wai
Michiko Hada
Michelle Reis
Carina Lau


Shôzô Ichiyama
Yang Teng-kuei


Chu T’ien-wen


Mark Lee Ping-bing


Liao Ching-Sung


Yoshihiro Hanno


Cannes (In Competition), Toronto, New York 1998; Auckland, Wellington 1999


Celebrating 50 years of the film festival in Wellington

50th logo

Set entirely within the walls of Shanghai’s elegant 19th century ‘flower houses’, Hou Hsiao-hsien’s genuinely intoxicating film is a kind of cinematic opiate, a rapturous period picture shot not around the conventions of all-knowing historical drama, but with a tantalising feeling for a world which has faded from memory. Centred on the frequent brothel visits of Master Wang (Tony Leung Chiu- Wai) and his fallout with his favourite girl, Crimson, while also straying into the lives and complications of other clients and courtesans, Flowers of Shanghai observes these comings and goings through a beautiful, melancholic haze, hovering over every ritual and gesture as if it’s about to be preserved in amber. Mark Lee Ping-bing’s gold-hued cinematography is extraordinary, by turns luminous from the natural glow of oil lamps and dreamlike from the clouds of secondhand smoke. In gorgeous extended takes where the camera is never quite still nor focused on one particular detail for too long, he and Hou create a drifting sense of time, place and anguish for the women imprisoned in this most lavish of bygone settings.