Highly regarded Taiwanese film maker Hou Hsia-Hsien (Cafe Lumiere, Goodbye South Goodbye, Flowers of Shanghai) delivers a relationship triptych with Three Times (2005). Shu Qi (Gorgeous, Millennium Mambo) and Chang Chen (Eros, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) star in each story as lovers and would-be lovers in three different time periods. In each story, their relationships reflect the cultural period of the time.
The first, ‟A Time For Love,‟ is set in 1966 Kaosiung. Chang Chen is a young man who, after failing his college entrance exams for the second time, is enlisted into the army. He spends his days before enlistment playing pool in a pool hall. On his last day, he plays pool with the hall's newest employee, a pretty young girl named May. He writes to her over the next few months, and, on his first day of leave, he returns only to find that she has left. He spends the day tracking her down before finally finding her. With the hours before he has to return quickly slipping away, the two bond, play some pool, share a meal, and hold hands under an umbrella in the rain.
‟A Time For Love‟ is a good bit of innocent romance and youthful flirtation. Taiwan, at the time, shared a good relationship with the US and was strictly anti-Communist so it had no part of the Chinese revolution. Therefore the pace is laid back and carefree, the lovers have it easy in exploring the first pangs of romance while The Platters ‟Smoke Gets in Your Eyes‟ plays in the background..
The second vignette, ‟A Time For Freedom,‟ takes place in 1911 Dadocheng. Chang Chen is an intellectual, a writer, and would-be revolutionary. Shu Qi plays a courtesan who secretly longs for a real relationship with him. But, he only regards her as a prostitute lover and private confidant, something she uncomfortably is reminded of when he arranges for another courtesan to legitimately be freed from her contract and be made a mistress in a wealthy family. He is able to pine for his countries independence but unable to see the desire for independence in the woman who loves him.
Since he couldn't replicate the speech of the era, in ‟A Time For Freedom‟, Hou Hsia-Hsien uses dialogue cards like in a silent movie. It was a time when Taiwan was under Japanese occupation and the intelligentsia began to strike out for their nations freedom. But, despite all the rationalizing and forward thinking, women like Shu Qi's character still had to abide as second class citizens, evidenced by how she is forced to suffer in silence.
The final story, ‟A Time For Youth,‟ takes place in modern day Taipei. Shu Qi plays Jing, a singer plagued with health problems, born epileptic, with fragile bones, a hole in her heart, and going blind in one eye. She lives with her lesbian lover but is also having an affair with a photographer, again, played by Chang Chen, who is also cheating on a girlfriend. Jing isn't trying very hard to cover up her affair, frequently taking off for rendevous with Chen, riding around the busy Taipei streets on his motorcycle. Her lover traces Jing's text messaging, cell phone, and computer log on's one afternoon and knows Jing has run off with the other man. Jing returns to her apartment to find her lover has left a suicide note.
This one is all about alienation and disconnect. ‟Smoke Gets in Your Eyes‟ is replaced by Jing's band playing a melancholy alternative number that she direfully croons . Their world is bathed in the light of cool flickering computer screens or bathed in artificial neon. This time, the relationship is an affair, the feeling more casual, more lustful, giving the sense that this is the most these modern youth can hope for.
Three Times is enjoyable but it suffers the fate of all anthology films, one part is always going to feel kind of weak, another strong, and the remaining somewhere in-between. The first part felt perfect. The second was a letdown. Unfortunately I think it comes down to technique. With the second segment, Hou Hsia-Hsien's trademark sense of minimalism and long one camera takes was hampered by the use of dialogue cards interrupting the flow. I also thought if he was going for a gimmicky silent film feel, he should have just committed and made it in black and white with worn stock, which would have helped the atmosphere and made the segment feel less like a paler version of his Flowers from Shanghai. Finally, while I enjoyed the third segment, it was predictably bleak. Hou Hsia-Hsien has made known in his other works how he feels about modern youthful alienation, and the final story felt like an alternate version of his Taiwanese club-hopping tale Millennium Mambo.
Speaking of which, while I was pretty underwhelmed by Millennium Mambo, the one thing that really stuck with me was how good Shu Qi was in that film. The same goes here, where she really shines. For a girl who began as a nudie pinup model turned over the top, cute girl (and often annoying) actress, Hou Hsia-Hsien coaxes great performance from her. In Three Times she displays a sharp sense of subtlety, ease, and speaks volumes her mannerisms, telling you everything you need to know without a single word (maybe she should just shut up). In Hou Hsia-Hsien's films, she really shows that there is a wealth of talent beyond her gorgeous features and goofy charm.
The DVD: CN Entertainment. NOTE: While the disc packaging states that it is region 3, the disc has no region encoding and is suitable for all players.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. The overall transfer is one of a the fair variety. The print is relatively clean with good sharpness; however the contrast is lacking in shadow details and the color scheme is a bit over saturated. Technically, the disc has some problems with ghosting in some high motion scenes, but there are very few, so it isn't a huge hindrance.
Sound: 2.0 Stereo, Mandarin with optional Chinese or English subtitles. Again, we come to some more minor quibbles. I actually read on another review about the discs hiss problems. I didn't notice anything when I first watched the film, but, to be fair, when I was reviewing it, my house had some background noise from other rooms. Trying it again in a silent environment with the speakers turned up, there is a constant hiss present on the audio track, not glaring, but just there, right under the surface.
Extras: Slipcase.— Trailer.— Bios, in Chinese or English.— Synopsis and Directors Statement, text, in Chinese or English. Actually, these helped explain the background a little. Some knowledge of Taiwanese history helps explain the backdrop of the stories. — Director Interview (21:46). Sadly, no English subs.
Conclusion: Hou Hsia-Hsien said that the film was built on his own fragmented memory and nostalgia, which is why the Chinese translation of the title means, ‟Our Best Moments.‟ As such, it is a good exercise, charming in some segments, less so in others. While this release is not technically perfect or packed with extras, the disc is quite affordable. It is really a judgement call. Those with really high end systems will want to wait and check out a different release, but for the more casual and penny pinching fan with a basic setup, it is a perfectly acceptable purchase.