“The first time I watched Flowers of Shanghai,” says illustrator Victo Ngai, “I thought I was being let in on a secret.”
Tasked with creating a cover image for Hou Hsiao-hsien’s opulent portrait of the lives of several courtesans in late-nineteenth-century Shanghai, Ngai began interrogating the richly layered film. “Initially, my voyeurism seemed not only expected but encouraged,” says the the Hong Kong–raised, Los Angeles–based artist, whose award-winning work graces books, magazines, and advertising all over the world. “However, the more I watched it, the more I realized how I was always being held at arm’s length.”
Inspired by the double meaning in the film’s Chinese title—in addition to referencing the film’s setting, Hai shang hua translates literally as “flowers on the sea”—Ngai chose to lean into that visual metaphor. “The courtesans are like flowers without roots, bobbing and crashing with the waves,” she says. “I wanted to capture the feeling that, though lush and exuberant in appearance, the romances between the characters are no more than pale and ghostly reflections on water that can be distorted and dispersed by a single ripple.”
Here are three of Ngai’s preliminary sketches for the cover art.
Chris Buck Brings His Off-Kilter Portraiture Style to Dick Johnson Is Dead
The veteran photographer’s gently surreal and comical sensibility drives the artwork of our edition of Kirsten Johnson’s documentary.
Designing Citizen Kane, Down to the Letter
How to encapsulate the spirit of the most celebrated film of all time in a single image? The artist behind our Citizen Kane edition reflects on his winding path to the minimalistic final product.
Revolutionary Artist: Emory Douglas on the Black Panthers and Melvin Van Peebles
The illustrator behind the cover image of our box set Melvin Van Peebles: Essential Films speaks with the edition’s designer about his history-making, boldly political aesthetic.
Caitlin Kuhwald’s Hand-Drawn Portraits Bring Iconic Faces to Life
The Los Angeles–based artist behind the covers for our editions of Amarcord and The Awful Truth discusses the evolution of her work.
You have no items in your shopping cart