Three Times (Hou, 2005)

Hou Hsiao-hsien’s attentive, lyrical obsession with film space creates a distinctly personal longing for the pleasures and heartaches of the past. Hou uses silence and music much as Peckinpah would slow motion photography and squibs, both hypnotic formal qualities advancing character and mood over story. However, his latest film Three Times comes across a little too pat for my taste. Hou gives us three short stories, involving the same two actors (Chang Chen and Shu Qi), taking place in three different era’s, concerning various riffs on love, communication, and sacrifice. “A Time for Love”, set in 1966, is the most passionate and expertly paced segment of the three, harboring moments of beauty in tune with the characters mutual attraction and innocence. The middle segment, “A Time for Freedom” is set in 1911 during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, Hou using a silent film aesthetic, both inter-titles and accompanying music, as the primary modes of communication. Lastly, in “A Time for Youth”, Hou sets his sights on modern day Taipei and the interactions between two involved youths cheating on their respective lovers with each other.Three Times changes tone with each progressing segment; a nostalgic and smoky mixture of colors in “Love”, then a strict, silent adherence to tradition in “Freedom”, finally a sporadic urban disdain for communication and commitment in “Youth.” After the brilliant mixture of melancholy and longing in the opening act, the rest of the film feels amazingly obvious, especially for Hou. It’s the last segment that bothers me the most, a clear cut critique of the gaps and fissures modern technology has caused personal human contact. Hou’s brilliant attention to camera movement and space can’t mask the redundancy of his material. By this point, his themes have been beaten home, the modern day feel of “Youth” both lethargic and contrived. Which is disappointing, because after the incredibly involved character development and spatial beauty of Cafe Lumiere, Three Times, especially it’s final 2/3’s, doesn’t come close to showing the true genius of Hou.

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