Intended as the concluding film in the trilogy on the modern history of Taiwan began with Beiqing Chengshi (1989), this film reveals the story through three levels: a film within a film as ... See full summary »
Ah-Ching and his friends have just finished school in their island fishing village, and now spend most of their time drinking and fighting. Three of them decide to go to the port city of ... See full summary »
(1) "A Time for Love": In 1966, in Kaohsiung, Chen meets May playing pool in a bar when he is joining the army. He sends letters to her and he comes to the bar to meet her again in his leave. However, May had traveled to another place and Chen seeks her out. (2) "A Time for Freedom": In 1911, in Dadaochend, the writer Mr. Chang works for Mr. Liang and frequently travels to a brothel, where he meets the singer. He financially helps the courtesan Ah Mei to become a concubine. When the singer asks him if he would help her to leave the brothel, there is no answer. (3) "A Time for Youth": In 2005, in Taipei, the messy relationship of the photographer Zhen, his girlfriend Jing and a bisexual singer.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Three Times, the latest film from Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien is a lyrical, sensuous, but disappointing collection of three love stories set in 1911, 1966, and 2005. Marvelously performed by Shu Qi (Millennium Mambo) and Chang Chen, the film is both a retrospective of Hou's earlier work, a historical study of a culture, and a cogent statement about how social limitations affect each person's ability to relate. The message, however, that social restraints and modern technology hampers our ability to connect with one another is hardly new and, though depicted via Hou's gorgeous minimalism, was not enough to allow me to become emotionally involved with the characters.
Utilizing a traditional three-act structure, the mood of the film shifts from one time period to the other but the position of the women remains significant. The first segment is set in 1966 and is titled "A Time for Love". Uncharacteristically, Hou uses pop songs as background to the episode involving a chance encounter between Chen, an on-leave soldier and May, a young woman who works at various pool halls in different Taiwanese towns. The songs, repeated throughout the segment in the style of Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai, are the Platters 1959 version of the thirties love song "Smoke Gets in your Eyes" and the 1968 hit by Aphrodite's Child "Rain and Tears". Chen becomes attracted to May after returning to visit a previous pool girl to whom he had written love letters while away in service.
Both watch each other carefully across smoky pool tables but are forced to leave and the remainder of the segment follows Chen as he attempts to track May in local pool halls across Taiwan. Though the first act contains some poetic moments of mutual attraction, it is mostly teasing in its elusiveness. May and Chen rarely speak and when they do, it is mostly about snooker. Nonetheless, Hou creates an atmosphere of tension as the lovers, perhaps like Taiwan itself at this time, must choose between remaining comfortable in their status quo or taking risks to engender more intriguing possibilities.
Set in 1911, act two, "A Time for Freedom", takes place in a concubine reminiscent of Hou's beautiful but claustrophobic Flowers of Shanghai. This 35-minute segment contains no dialogue, simply intertitles as in silent films and a tinkling piano in the background. Hou's ostensible reason for using this device is that he was unable to recreate the Taiwanese spoken language of the period. Though this is understandable, I doubt if many would have noticed and the absence of dialogue for that long a period of time comes across as an affectation. In this section, the two lovers from the first segment are now reprieved as master and concubine. The master is a political activist who writes articles promoting independence and provides financial help to a concubine pupil to allow her to achieve the status of companion.
Unfortunately, he does not address the issue his concubine is most concerned about - her own personal freedom, and he remains indifferent as she expresses her longings, again perhaps reflecting the political idea that Taiwan was not capable of independence at this time. The final chapter brings us to the modern world of freeways, cellphones, and text messaging. Named "A Time for Youth", the title of this segment is steeped in irony. No longer a subtext, the lack of communication fostered by modern technology reminds us of previous films by the director that eloquently conveyed the apathetic self-indulgence of modern Taiwanese youth, Goodbye South, Goodbye and Millennium Mambo. Unlike Goodbye South, Goodbye, which employed colored filters to highlight the garishness of modern Taipei, however, the city in the current film is now dark and foreboding.
The characters are a photographer, his girlfriend, a rock singer, and her own female lover. The singer is torn between these two lovers and I was frustrated by the intrusion of the female lover who acts as a brake on a fulfilling possibility between the two main protagonists, promised in the opening two segments. Though most likely true to the director's intentions, the final section feels artificial and cold and Three Times, while bearing flashes of Hou's brilliance, comes across as a cinematic exercise, an appealing concept that is ultimately unsatisfying.
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