Entirely studio shot, Hou's most formally daring film to date is less an adaptation of a century old novel by Han Ziyun than a distillation of the lost world it describes. The 'flower houses' of old Shanghai were technically brothels, but not primarily places for sex; at a time when arranged marriages were the norm, China's male elite patronised them to get an éducation sentimentale. Hou organises the film around two strands of narrative. In one, Cantonese civil servant Wang (Leung) turns his back on his favourite 'flower girl' after catching her with another lover. In the other, a 'gentleman caller' and a cynical 'flower girl' conspire to profit from arranging to cover up the scandal of an attempted suicide. Each scene is a continuous take, bracketed by fades up from and back to black; the one (crucial) exception is the insert of Wang's point-of-view as he witnesses Ms Crimson's unfaithfulness. Hauntingly sad, the film elegantly deranges the viewer's sense of time: this seemingly unchanging world is in fact riven by off-screen incidents - which change everything.