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(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 (Zui hao de shi guang) is so frank a film that the viewer may get lost looking for the hidden meanings in this century traversal of lovers' interactions in China. Not one for simple linear film-making, director Hsiao-hsien Hou instead opts for mood and suggestion and leaves the paucity of dialog to make room for emotional involvement and response. Three periods - 1966 A Time for Love, 1911 A Time for Freedom, and 2005 A Time for Youth - are depicted with the same main characters, Qi Shu and Chen Chang, who prove to be exceptionally sensitive to the concept from the director: with each new tale these fine actors mold new characters and questions and yet allow us to see a line of similarity in the couples as the director has suggested.
The film wisely opens with the most successful of the three 'Times' - 1966 A Time for Love - - tracing the emergence of timid passion between a lad headed for the military and a young girl who works in a pool hall. They communicate by letters after their first brief introductory encounter and circumstances interfere with the progress of their relationship in 1966 Taiwan. The middle section 1911 A Time for Freedom is gorgeous visually and conceptually the director has elected to use the cinematic form of the period (silent movie) to tell his story about the freeing of a young girl from the grip of a brothel madam and surveys the political tensions between Japan and China as the quietly lighted story of love and yearning unfolds. The film ends with 2005 A Time for Youth and here our lovers are caught up in the pollution of smog, cellphones, emails, nightclubs, and infidelities for same sex affairs that speak loudly about the tenor of the times.
Hsiao-hsien Hou's films are an acquired taste and many will find the choppy editing, the fragmentary scenes that are not always well focused for the story line, and the over-long length (130 minutes) too much to endure. But the ideas are fresh and the characters and vignettes are memorable, and most of the major critics in the media have lavished praise on this film. It is an interesting work but for this viewer there are enough flaws to keep it grounded. Grady Harp
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