This is Hou Hsiao-Hsien in true form: long takes, little camera movement, and little to no exposition. In fact, I counted and there were only 36 cuts in the ~2 hour running time. The film takes us into the “flower” houses of the Shanghai during the late 1800’s. The flower girls are prostitutes serving their “auntie” also known as their owner. They serve local male “masters” who seem to spend all their time with the women, drinking, and smoking opium. Finally, Hou makes sure to mention that most of these houses are in the English section.
The film juxtaposes the warm and very calm sequences, like the one shown above, with the occasional outburst and drama that we only hear about. That may do something for some people, but I was more interested in how the girl served the aunties who served the masters who served the unseen English masters who kept them all under their thumb via opium. As a result, everyone under the English was fighting for pecking order that was contained in a jar held by the English.
This film is not for everyone. But if you handle it, it’s worth a look.