Set in the Qing dynasty, The Flowers of Shanghai offers a look at life amongst courtesans who cater to elite men who gather in brothels to eat, drink, gamble and . . . we never see what else. The camera stays in the main rooms. So use your imagination.
The film’s strength was its costumes and set. The languid ladies squabbles about getting money from their biggest customers left me cold. I understand that was the tradition within this subculture but it wasn’t clear that the patron was obligated to give his flower as much as she wanted. As girls these women were sold to the flower houses, yet they can marry their way out of this life. These characters didn’t win me over.
The arguments were repeated throughout the film. If there were some change in direction, a revelation or action, my interest would have grown. Sumptuous silk costumes can only do so much to help a movie.