(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
Like so many foreign and independent films these days, Hsiao-hsien Hou's "Three Times" is less concerned with telling a story than with observing the rituals of everyday life. The movie is so-titled because it uses the same set of actors to tell three different tales of love spanning nearly a century of Chinese history.
The first segment, "A Time for Love", set in 1966, is a sweet and tender tale of an arm's-length romance between a pool hall hostess and the soldier who pursues her. The second, "A Time for Youth," in which a singer yearns for a life outside the brothel in which she works, takes place in 1911 and borrows its style from silent films, using title cards rather than voices to convey the dialogue. The final part, "A Time for Freedom," is a contemporary tale of a bisexual woman caught between her male and female lovers.
All three episodes are more mood pieces than narratives, with emotions and meanings hinted at rather than externalized and dramatized. This is fine up to a point, but eventually, as a trilogy, "Three Times" becomes a case of diminishing returns the longer it goes on. The first section is a work of tremendous charm and beauty, the second considerably less so, and the third is so inscrutable in content and desultory in tone that the viewer winds up virtually pulling his hair out in frustration and boredom by the time it's over. There are some distinct parallels between the first and second story, and I'm sure that one could come up with some grand thematic scheme connecting the three works, but, frankly, none of it really holds together all that well, apart from the use of letters (or, in the case of the third installment, text messages) as a key plot device in each section.
Qi Shu and Chen Chang have charisma and rapport as the two time-hopping lovers, but even they are not enough to keep "Three Times" from being much less than the sum of its parts.
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