Reviewed by: pjshimmer
This movie achieved substantial impact on me, in a good way. Firstly, it's the first Hou Hsiou Hsien film that I have been able to sit through in its entirety. As much as I claim to admire film as art, I will not ever consider giving FLOWERS OF SHANGHAI another attempt. Secondly, I now see Hou Hsiou Hsien as one of the most respectable craftman in cinema, even more admirable than Zhang Yimou from China or my personal favorite, Wong Kar Wai from HK, and I'll give my reasons. Zhang and Wong take risks with their creations, but they are relatively easy to grasp, and even have some entertainment values. For example, Zhang's TO LIVE is an emotionally heavy drama that spans several generations before, during, and after Cultural Revolution. Even if one doesn't have taste for art films, one could enjoy its sheer melodrama. In the case of Wong, his Chungking Express has a huge cult following. It has a sweet touch of spontaneity that makes it watchable to anyone, although the disconnected storytelling could throw some people off.
Reviewer Score: 8
So Zhang can do intense drama, and Wong can direct spontaneous acting. Hou Hsiou Hsien (or his colleagues Tsai Ming Liang and Edward Yang), however, is of a different breed. His films (that I've seen anyway) are casual but deliberately never ever strive to be interesting. For example, there's no moody music, showy cinematography, or thought-provoking dialogue to spice things up while you watch a 2-minute long take of people walking. Everything is just as indifferent as it is and nothing more; then it's up to us to give it a meaning -- that is the essence of MINIMALISM which define Hou's body of work. Minimalist cinema is by far the most difficult to grasp and sit through (since "nothing happens," some will understandbly accuse), and many viewers detest it with a passion. Whether this style is actually effective I do not know, "all I know is this: once I was blind and now I can see." Good Men Good Women is an eye opener for me.
In recent years, several well-noted Chinese art house filmmakers have upgraded to generously budgetted blockbusters: Ang Lee with Crouching Tiger, Zhang Yimou with Hero and Flying Dagger, He Ping with Warriors of Heaven & Earth, Fruit Chan with Three Extremes: Dumpling, not to forget Cheng Kaige's special effects fantasy extravagenza The Promise on the way, followed by Wong Kar Wai reportedly to film an American feature The Lady from Shanghai with Nicole Kidman, and words of Hou's Taiwanese colleague Edward Yang to direct an animation produced by Jackie Chan. In such a relaxing trend, will Hou Hsiou Hsien have any surprises for us, or will he continue to explore Taiwan in minimalist glory?
Reviewed by: STSH
Summary: Leisurely pacing
This director is clearly not interested in rushing things. In terms of the actual story content, at least 40 minutes in total could be edited out with no loss. For instance, the five people who volunteer to join the resistance against the Japanese are shown being interviewed individually. They are all asked the same questions, and their answers are quite similar. Why show all five in a row ? Gawd.
Reviewer Score: 2
Despite the leisurely pace, there is quite a lot going on in the plot. Many years are packed into this story, and quite a wealth of historical detail, in which one unfamiliar with Chinese history could easily get lost. Still, I would honestly have preferred to watch an edited (i.e. shorter) version of this film.
HHH is apparently an artistic director, and his fans seem to argue that the pacing is all part of his style. Whatever the merits of this argument, it certainly doesn't make for riveting cinema. If you are at all the impatient type, keep close to the fast-forward button.