Three Times, the new HHH

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Three Times, the new HHH

Postby howardschumann(d) » Mon Oct 31, 2005 5:46 pm

THREE TIMES (Ziu hao de shi guang)

Directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien (2005)

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.


Re: Three Times, the new HHH

Postby hengcs » Wed Nov 02, 2005 6:05 am

Here is an official website

Re: Three Times, the new HHH

Postby arsaib4 » Wed Apr 05, 2006 6:09 am

[Note: Three Times was originally seen last year at the Toronto film festival; this review was posted in the appropriate festival thread on 10/07/05.]

*A 2006 U.S. Release*

***possible spoilers***

A haunting and hypnotic journey encapsulating time, memory and space, Three Times (Zui hao de shi guang), the latest chef-d'oeuvre from Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien, is a film which ultimately travels straight-to-the-heart. Comprised of three segments spread across time, it stars Hous muse Shu Qi and Wong Kar Wais regular Chang Chen as lovers who return in each segment with different identities facing a different set of rules established by history and society.

Nothing bounds the opening sequence, however, one which is destined to go down as one of the greatest moments from the master: As The Platters "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" fills the auditory senses, the fluid, sumptuous images of DP Mark Lee Ping-bin capture the visuals, simply leaving one in a state of awe. From the green baize of the snooker table reflecing in the skin of the participants (including our protagonists) quietly playing what theyre about to play across time, to the hazy Nouvelle Vague ambiance, its simply breathtaking to watch. One could obviously tell the time-period from the details, and it isnt long that Hou begins his first segment in the same frame 1966 to be exact, with the title, "A Time for Love." Here, Shu Qi plays May, a pool-hall hostess who eventually gets the attention of Chen (Chang Chen), a soldier and a regular visitor of the parlors. But the duo lose touch after Chen gets called in for service and May has to move to another town for a job.

While overall, Hou has tried to underplay the political angle to Three Times, it's quite prominent. In this particular segment, its hard not to notice the constant physical displacement of his characters, something that brings to mind the Cultural Revolution of the mid-60's which had similar effects. There are numerous shots of Chang traveling to and fro across the harbor for his service, and at one point he even goes from one small town to another in search of his love. For this section, Hous Dust in the Wind (1986) also comes to mind, and a whiff of The Time to Live and the Time to Die (1985) is hard to miss. But "A Time for Love" is primarily an ode to the directors days of youth; hes said that he was in love with the music of that era, something that becomes obvious with his repeated use of Aphrodites Childs "Rain and Tears," most effectively as the segment beautifully culminates near a railway station, another place Hou is well familiar with.

The second segment, "A Time for Freedom," one which will lead most viewers familiar with Hou's work to point to his 1998 masterpiece Flowers of Shanghai, is possibly even more political. Set in 1911 at a brothel, not unlike the one from the former, this segment recalls the time of Japanese occupation of Hous homeland. Chang plays a liberal diplomat trying to convey his ideas to the masses against the control. Here, Chang is a regular at the brothel since he's the master of a concubine simply named Shu (Shu Qi). Like any concubine, Shus ultimate dream is to become married, or at least be set free by her married master, someone who truly believes in freedom, but its hard to tell if this patriot actually understands the sorrow of his own muse.

Hou has shot the segment like a silent film, with intertitles. (Hou has said that this wasn't an aesthetical choice but rather a practical one since the subtleties of the language spoken during that time period are extremely difficult to learn.) Only the musical pieces that accompany the visitors at the dinners are heard, and pointedly express the inner turmoil Shu goes through while she performs. "A Time for Freedom" is perhaps the most devastating segment of the three, thanks in part to DP Mark Lee who once again does wonders, this time in restrictive physical and emotional space.

And then, in an instant, we watch Chang flying down a noisy Taipei highway on his motorcycle with Shu on his back. This is, after all, "A Time for Youth," in the present day Taiwanese capital. Disorientation begins early and it stays till the very end. Shu Qi plays Jing, an epileptic singer who has someone else besides the man in her life played by, once again, Chang Chen, a photographer in this segment.

Hou enters "Millennium Mambo" territory here with neon lights, exquisite interior designs, and a general emotive coldness. He has said that he shot an hour of this segment and Id be very interested in that. The underlying mystery in this piece is often jarred by sudden shifts, but that may have been the point. Nevertheless, in the throes of a haunting melody, Hou ultimately takes us back on the road of life whose uncertainty can only lead us to brace ourselves, and hold on tight to the ones we love.

Grade: A


THREE TIMES premiered at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival (in-competition). The film will be released in the U.S. by IFC - On Demand on April 26th.

Re: Three Times, the new HHH

Postby arsaib4 » Sun Apr 09, 2006 2:42 am

The Taiwanese DVD, which includes English subs, is now available. A cheaper HK DVD (also featuring Eng subs) is another option.

Re: Three Times, the new HHH

Postby A » Mon Apr 24, 2006 1:39 am

Man, arsaib your review was really breathtaking. If the film is anywhere close to it, I will pronbably end up watching it repeatedly.
Your review just brought up beautiful pictures of the film in my mind. Thanks a lot!

Re: Three Times, the new HHH

Postby wpqx » Mon Jun 26, 2006 1:39 am

The US DVD is being released on September 26.

Re: Three Times, the new HHH

Postby arsaib4 » Mon Jun 26, 2006 3:18 am

I know, but what happened to your plans of visiting the Music Box?

Thanks to digital-projection-technology, Three Times will even play in a black-hole called Buffalo. I've already seen it twice, but I just might go watch it three more times.

Re: Three Times, the new HHH

Postby wpqx » Mon Jun 26, 2006 4:02 am

I still might, the only problem is this week its playing, and this week so are the @#%$ Cubs, so parking will cost $20 at the cheapest. Still might give it a shot, asked two people who will probably say "no" to join me, but I have Wednesday night off, and I think the Cubs are playing in the early afternoon, so it might be doable.

Re: Three Times, the new HHH

Postby wpqx » Fri Jun 30, 2006 1:43 am

Well updates for all. Three Times theatrical run was ending today, in fact as I'm typing this the last show is running. I decided to say @#%$ sleep today, and went down to Wrigleyville. I got there nice and insanely early so parking wouldn't be an issue. I parked near the Music box, and walked the few blocks to Wrigley Field where I found a relatively nice overpriced scalper selling tickets. I bought one, and hung around the area for a little while until the game. The game was a disappointment (as almost every Cubs game has been lately), but afterwards I wandered off to Southport Ave to get me some Cold Stone ice cream and hit on the ice cream scooper until it was time for the movie to start. After finishing my ice cream I wandered down Southport to the Music Box complete with a few too many markings from my ice cream on me. I was amazed to find that the Music Box actually has a "cheap" show. So instead of the $9.25 ass raping I was expecting, it was about an $8.25 ass raping, which left my anus feeling much less violated.

So anyways seeing the film in this wonderful theater is always a pleasure. The last time I went I was put in theater two which looks like a storage closet converted into a movie theater. This was on screen one however, and the place is quite spectacular. Unfortunately since I had slept about 3 hours this week it was getting hard to keep my eyes open. This was only a problem during the second segment of the film, so therefore I feel incapable of offering any great criticism on this part which I thought was the weakest. The film began in absolutely perfect fashion. The first story was absolutely touching, and its filled with a personal sense of nostalgia, and I thought the close up of the two lovers holding hands was perhaps the most heartfelt moment in all of Hou's work. With films of this nature though its usually difficult for three acts to all measure up, and I don't think the other two did. The last seemed unoriginal to me, and something that had been done a little better by Tsai Ming Liang in nearly all of his films. I'm glad I did get a chance to see it in a theater though, and I can say one positive thing about the last segment. For once a movie where a scene takes place at a bar/club the music was deafening. I'm sick of people talking without raising their voices while a band is playing in the background.

Re: Three Times, the new HHH

Postby arsaib4 » Fri Jun 30, 2006 2:45 am

I'm extremely glad that you decided to go down there. And thanks for providing us with, ahem, the blow-by-blow account.

As for the film, I think you would appreciate the second segment a bit more later on, especially because you're a big Flowers of Shanghai fan. Good point about the music/club scene.


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