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Only the first third really sings, but when Hou hits it, he flies to the moon...
Chris Knipp17 November 2005
Shown at the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, October 2005.

Hou fans, a serious bunch, will be delighted with the chronological and sociological ambition of "Three Times"; for me it drifted gently downhill after "time" one, a wonderfully touching, minimalist love story about a soldier and a pool hall girl in 1966. The second "time" ("Dadaodeng: a Time for Freedom") is 1911, and to evoke the period Hou shoots the film as a silent with piano music and inter-titles and the subject of a brothel and buying courtesans as concubines -- complicated by a story of going off to fight for freedom -- resembles Hou's cumulatively richer full-length brothel saga, "Flowers of Shanghai," which is easier to follow. "Time" three is now, and Hou lays on the contemporaneity with a trowel: you've got tattoos and cell phones and text messaging and motorcycles and epilepsy and lesbian lovers and smog and nightclub singing... and it all ends chaotically... like contemporary life, I guess. Each period segment has a composedly different style but, number three, "2005: Taipei: A Time for Youth" seems the least uniquely Hou of the three. It takes off from Hou's "Millennium Mambo," but the material has been dealt with in more original fashion by Wong Kar Wai and Olivier Assayas and many others.

What justifies the three segments and makes them interact with each other is the use of the same two actors, the tough but tender Chang Chen and the "impossibly glamorous" Shu Qi as the man and woman for each period. Seeing how they are transformed each time conveys Hou's essential message that we are entirely formed by the period we live in. Everything in the film is ravishing to look at, but it's the shyness of the couple in "time" one ("1966, Kaosiung: A Time for Love") that stole my heart. The final scene, where the girl and boy just sip tea and look at each other and smile and nervously laugh and fall in love, seemed more authentic and present and fresh than probably anything else in the whole film festival at Lincoln Center this year. When Hou hits it, he flies to the moon.
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A masterpiece from Hou Hsiao Hsien
ectype3 January 2006
Interestingly enough, two elites of contemporary Chinese directors have presented their latest nostalgic works between 2004 and 2005. Compared to Wong Kar-wai's hybrid style and inscrutable cinematic codes in last year's 2046, Hou Hsiao Hsien's new masterpiece Three times in this year's Cannes is distinctly built on a three-episode structure and simply reminiscent of his chefs-d'oeuvre from his different golden ages.

The first episode "A time for love" is obviously associated with Hou's earlier works in 1980s. Set in Taiwan's snooker parlor in 1960s, a nostalgic aura infused with youthful vigor and adolescent impulse successfully recurred in Hou's stylish, experienced long-shots. The subtle relationship between the two main characters was getting clear with repetition of the Taiwanese old songs and western pops Smoke gets in your eyes, The Beatles' Rain and tears. This episode contains Director's real experiences and was rendered the most accessible of the three stories.

The second episode "A time for freedom" reminds me of his acclaimed classic Flower of Shanghai. Similar backgrounds, characters, chamber settings, fastidious costume designs refer to the identical tragic theme: Historically and emotionally lost. The surprise comes from the narration, which is dealt with in the form of silent movies. What struck me more is Shu Qi's weepy performance of those ancient elegies in an incomprehensible language.

The last episode "A time for youth" drew me back to the contemporary Taiwan in 2005. This episode is shockingly flooded with a variety of Generation-X's stuff such as e-mails, blog, cellar messages, trance music, digital camera, drugs, epilepsy etc., and also focused upon a group of aimless and hopeless younger animals, center of whom is a premature girl played by Shu Qi. Reminiscent of Millennium Mambo, also starring amazing Shu Qi as the key character, this story is loosely predicted on a girl whose relationship between her homosexual lover and a young male camera is morbidly and unapologetically intertwined. It's hard to conjecture why the director chose such an extraordinary story here as a representation of the contemporary society. Utilization of all kinds of most up-dated symbols has, however, proved his master touch in exactly presenting the loneliness, aimlessness and helplessness of the X-Generation living in the new century.

As the best actress in 2005's Golden Horse Award, Shu Qi's portrait of three women from different times is so convincing and laudable that she is totally competent for more difficult characters.
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Flashes of Hou's brilliance
howard.schumann31 October 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.
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Underrated movie about love
weisser-213 May 2006
Because this movie takes patience and doesn't depend on the usual understanding of plot and character, it's been under-appreciated, in my opinion. The opening segment takes place in the Sixties, followed by a trip into the past in the next segment, and into the future, i.e. the present, in the last. Because the same actors appear as lovers in all three, the movie invites us to compare historical interpretations of love and life, as well as see what is continuous in all three. Nothing much "happens" in any of the three, though there are small stories in each; the meaning of the movie lies in the sensibility and sensuous effects of each historical section. The beauty and dignity of the 1911 section is contrasted with the repulsiveness of the contemporary urban, industrialized and technological landscape, yet the modern women have a freedom that the heroine of the 1911 section could not dream about. The treatment of love is serious, yet also playful; love songs, love letters and smoking (tea a century ago) are all customs and codes of romance movies that are used ironically here. All in all, a masterful and interesting movie, but not for those who want fast-paced thrills.
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Hou confirms his standing as probably the most masterly film maker currently at work anywhere
malpal-15 August 2006
Three Times shows Hou Hsiao-Hsien developing further the themes of his two dazzling earlier works Flowers of Shanghai and Millennium Mambo.

It consists of three tales of love and its vicissitudes: A Time for Love, set in 1966, A Time for Freedom set in 1911, and A Time for Youth, set in the present.

As with all great art, everything lies in the style, the tempo, pacing, control of light, the compositions and framing, the control of tone, the nuances of facial expressions and bodily poses and movements, and the way all these amplify and develop the subject.

The incidents depicted are spare and in the case of the first tale almost non existent. Yet through his technique Hou right from the outset creates a mesmerizing, hypnotic, almost overwhelming spell.

This is film making on the grand scale,reminiscent of the great sixties film makers, but almost never seen these days. One wants to invoke the opulence of a Visconti , the deceptively involved and passionate realism of a Godard, the precise formulations of Eric Rohmer and Michelangelo Antonioni.

Beyond film other comparisons come to mind: Raymond Carver's supreme control of tone in elevating the barest of incidents to the stuff of high drama is perfectly matched by Hu, particularly in the first of his tales. The radiant, almost contemplative or prayer-like presentation of the women in all three tales simply reading letters or E-Mails reminds one of nothing so much as Vermeer.

In each part the style perfectly matches the themes - restraint (whether tentative and hesitant, or formalized and implacable) in the first two, and gorgeous excess in the last.

And in each section there is a succession of moments so beautiful, so "right" and so new, one really wants to shout it from the rooftops.

Whilst Three Times perhaps lacks the cumulative dramatic power of the two earlier films, it shares with them the exhilaration one gets from knowing one is viewing a great artist at the peak of his powers, the sense that he can literally do anything he wants, that no subject is beyond him.

If you haven't seen these films do yourself a favor and seek them out - they are quite possibly among the most important art of our time.
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HOU Hsiao-Hsien fans should find it easy to like this one
harry_tk_yung31 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Just like recent "Eros" (2004)and "About love" (2005), HOU Hsiao-Hsien's "Three Times" is another three-in-one movie. The Chinese title "The best of times" is however taken right out of Dickens and is more meaningful, but I'll come to that later.

The three unrelated stories (all played by CHANG Chen and SHU Qi) do not come in chronological order – Love (in 1966) , Freedom (in 1911) and Youth (in 2500). Truly retro is "Love", starting with languid "Smoke gets in your eyes" (which however came from a decade earlier), tracing a simple encounter between two simple young people, not unlike the first segment of "About Love". "Freedom", set during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, depicts the futile relationship between an affluent writer and a popular courtesan. The protagonists are at the dawn of an age of liberation but not quite there. Instead of freedom, they only have frustration. "Youth" is about generation-z (pardon the coining), the lost cyber generation (pardon the pessimism).

Among the three, there is no question that "the best of times" is "Love", when the first generation of post WWII baby boomers, with innocence intact and curiosity unimpaired, faces a world of possibilities and opportunities. The relationship between the protagonists is shown with sweet simplicity. "Freedom" is an exquisite piece of artwork, filmed as a traditional silent film using inter-titles, an interesting reminder of something someone once said, that true movies died with the invention of sound. In this segment, the oppression of hundreds of years of feudal tradition is felt in every inch of the film. "Youth" is director HOU's attempt to complete the temporal map but the cyber generation is really not his forte.

SHU proves with convincing finality that her responsibility in a movie is not just to look pretty. She is particularly impressive in "Freedom", but shooting that segment as a silent movie also helps in creating an authentic period feeling. Since his debut to the world in Crouching Tiger, CHANG has grown and matured into difference roles, most noticeably as the tailor in "The Hand" segment of "Eros", playing opposite GONG Li.

After disappointed some of his faithful followers with "Qianxi manbo" (2001), director HOU brought to the audience an excellent Japanese film "Café Lumiere" (2003). His fans should be happy to see him back in shape with "Three times", set at his native Taiwan.
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Three Times: A Century of Reponses to Love
gradyharp5 August 2007
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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highly uneven
Buddy-5121 January 2007
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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Lovely, but not without its demands...
chris-25122 January 2007
My girlfriend is always complaining that I rent gory, hateful Italian horror movies like 'Strip Naked For Your Killer' and 'Cannibal Holocaust', so I figured I'd switch it up and introduce her to the wild world of Hou. I should have stuck with 'Strip Naked...'! She complained the entire time that the film was too slow, that the characters were too vague and the whole thing, well, 'sucked'.

In my opinion, this was a graceful, magnificent film, but it is, what I like to call a 'Phantom Masterpiece' that is, a film which culminates a director's many obsessions, but doesn't really have that special punch that makes masterwork status unequivocal. I felt 'In the Mood For Love' by Wong Kar-Wai was a similar disappointment when compared to his 'true' masterpieces 'Happy Together', 'Chungking Express' and 'Fallen Angels'.

So, while you're right to expect a lot from this movie, don't expect a 'Flowers of Shanghai'.

Regardless, I found this film very fascinating, and one viewer's comment on IMDb about the film as a meta film is interesting, especially when you consider that framing shots of different actors in different times and places are virtually identical sequence to sequence. For instance, when a woman opens a letter, she's shot from exactly the same vantage point every time, regardless of the origins of the letter or herself. Its just too idiosyncratic to not be meaningful.

Also, a lot of this film is playfully back lit as characters are reduced almost to shadows for much of the action, however, as they move through the frame, light finds them and its really quite incredible.

If you are a true film fan, or a fan or Ozu, Haneke, Bresson, or Antonioni, you'll love this.
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Slow but with a couple of interesting things...
Articulo2028 November 2005
I must admit that I fall asleep twice during the "Second Time", the 1911, but, still, the film has some things that can make it really interesting. Here are two of them: I specially liked the use of the light in the different stories. The light itself talks and tells us how the director feels about each of the periods he describes. Well, I can't talk that much about the second one but the 1966 one and the 2005 story are clear examples of this. The light in the first "time" is a warm light, an innocent one...the colors are soft and confident under that light. Like their love. On the other hand, the light from the final part is cold, blue, doesn't invite us to join the experiences the characters are living as the one in the first part does. I guess the director becomes the light in this's the point of view, the subjective eye in the film.

There is another thing I liked a lot in "Three times": the role of communication. In the first time, 1966, there are a lot of handwritten letters, few face-to-face words and delicate skin-to-skin and eye-to-eye contacts. In the Second part, it's mainly conversations. And in the 2005, when the characters are provided with a wide range of communication gadgets, communication seems even more difficult...(the scene with her crying in the motorbike and him asking if she's OK is extremely good in expressing this contradiction of the nowadays world: fast motorbikes, sms, e-mails, pictures...and still we are not able to express our most important feelings!) All in all, and in spite of the fact that the second part of "Three Times" might be too slow, there are a couple of interesting things to see in this film. However I must say that it is not a film for everyone and nor for every moment!
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A Tryptich of a master
za-andres12 March 2007
ou Hsiao-Hsien's mystical concoction of three love stories told in different time periods but starring the same lead actors (Shu Qi and Chang Chen), finds the Taiwanese director revisiting and expanding upon his favorite milieus and themes. Perhaps it is a bit slow at the beginning, but once you get into it, it is truly a wonderful film. My first thought of "Three Times", was that it was an experiment of beautiful cinema, driven by a masterful director, Hou Hsiao-Hsien. "Three Times" is almost close to masterpiece level.

In "Three Times", only the second of Mr. Hou's films to secure distribution in this country, Shu Qi plays three women living in three historical periods, separate moments that define both their relationships to the larger world and to their lovers, played in each story by the equally striking actor Chang Chen. Although the stories work on their own, they also compliment one another, so much so that the last story, "A Time for Youth," seems less like an ending than a beginning.

Perhaps the most beautiful one of them all, is the first one, "A Time for Love". Its physical attraction and beautiful acting drives viewers to see more. "Three Times" is a rapturously beautiful piece of modern cinema. To stumble on this work of art should be a must see for everyone.
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A Subtle World of Difference
Ruggi4u11 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Taiwan, 1966. A time for love and romance, a time for dreamers. Dreamers like Chen, making his own motorbike sounds when he's on his bicycle, on his way to the pool bar where he always hangs out. He writes romantic letters to the girl who works there, and comes to see her one last time before joining the army. The young lady who works there tells him she's sorry, the girl isn't there, she's on her way to the station. A long silence follows. But… what is your name, Chen asks her. Her name is May.

Chen writes romantic letters to May, and comes back to the pool bar to meet her on his one day leave. May isn't here, the new young lady who works there tells him. A long silence follows. But…. do you know where I can find her, Chen asks her.

1966 is the time of true love and real romance, director Hou Hsiao Hsien tells us. With the Platters playing their soulful jukebox romance in the background, Chen and May slowly and carefully approach each other, in little words and subtle movements. The way May puts an ashtray on the side of the pool table while Chen is aiming for his shot with a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, and the way Chen moves it away for May when it's her turn, it's just the little things that show the power of understanding, in a language without words. Romance under high voltage, where every moment they almost physically touch raises the intensity higher and higher.

How different is the Taiwan occupied by Japan in 1911. A time for freedom? Surely not for the courtesan whose fate seems to be controlled by everyone but her. By the madam who rules the brothel where she works. By Ah Mei who would replace her as the top courtesan in time, but who gets pregnant and gets bought away by the father of her child to become one of his concubines. And by Mr Chang, who goes against his principles against keeping concubines, and closes the financial gap in the deal about Ah Mei's becoming one. He seems to do this out of love for the top courtesan, but all it achieves is that he prevents her liberty. Did he even think about that? A question that remains unanswered. All feelings remain unspoken in the Taiwan of 1911, which is stressed by the way this part is filmed as a silent movie, with inter-text pages for the dialogue. The only voice we hear is that of the musician, pointing out with her classical Asian songs that there is reality to this world.

There isn't much reality to the Taipei of 2005. A time for youth? There's not a moment of piece for the youth in this rushed capital of Taiwan, where everyone is communicating like mad, and where you need a damn good explanation if your cell phone remained unanswered for a couple of hours. This world is as exhibitionist as it is rushed, every emotion is out on the streets and larger than life. Here, shyness only begins after intercourse. A world gone insane, ending on the back of the motorbike of your one week boyfriend, because your girlfriend just text messaged you about killing herself. A passionless choice for a temporary boyfriend, for lack of better options. At the moment.

It is clear that Hou Hsiao Hsien sees true love in 1966, romanticizing it as much as possible. This way, the sixties are not only the time for love, but also the time for freedom, where people aren't ruled by traditions and formalities, aren't choked by time, stress and friends. And it also seems to be the time for youth, because back then, they could listen to their true feelings and go after their real passion. The youth of today? They show a flood of feelings and emotions, but were born with a hole in their hearts. Unspoken or flooded emotions, both lack true meaning. Between those two, there's a subtle world of difference.
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Agony to watch
dcannon5 July 2007
It's so amusing to read the adoring, slavishly reverent attitudes of viewers who, I can only surmise, can not bring themselves to poo-poo an art film that so many critics have championed. This film is a disaster. There is no narrative to speak of in any of the three stories. The characters act as if embalmed. Scenes unfold at a glacial pace and sequences are repeated ad nauseam, e.g., the pool playing in the first story. The second segment should be laughed off the screen. How pretentious to watch the characters lips moving and then be shown in titles what they just said. This is film-making at the college sophomore level. And the third part is just one giant cliché about alienated youth. Just imagine!!! They have sex, they sing about being different, and they look at the Internet and find kinky Web sites. Shocking!! Don't believe the hype on this one. There is NOTHING there.
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Romantic epic falls short of promise
oneloveall23 September 2006
Masterfully directed, though questionably plotted love story focuses on a pair of star-crossed lovers who end up falling in love throughout three different lifetimes in three different time periods. This mystical romance is presented through three self contained vignettes, which remain as true to the customs and culture of the times as is possible. The scope of this film is quite admirable, presenting a deeply sensitive observation on the true essence of love, karma, and the pressures that keep those apart from each other. However, one finds, after the passionate first segment, that the majority of the film does not quite live up to it's vast promise. Starting with it's most emotionally concrete and acutely observed segment, Hsiao-hsien Hou shows why he has earned the respect of his cinematic peers worldwide by beautifully and subtly capturing the heartfelt story. While the other two segments remain interesting, emotional connections begin to slide throughout the tones of the remaining segments. Hou's decision to film the second segment as a silent film, while breaking up the three contrasting styles nicely, ultimately plays as detached and leaves the viewer unconcerned with the characters involved. Returning to modern times, the third segment regains a little vibrancy, but also comes across as distant and underdeveloped. This would all be a lot more tedious to watch, had it not been for Hou's esteemed composition, and the natural graces of the two main leads, exemplified at it's finest unfortunately far too early in the film.
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Three (Boring) Short Stories of Love and Communication
claudio_carvalho7 October 2012
(1) "A Time for Love": In 1966, in Kaohsiung, Chen (Chen Chang) meets May (Qi Shu) 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 (Chen Chang ) works for Mr. Liang and frequently travels to a brothel, where he meets the singer (Qi Shu). He financially helps the courtesan Ah Mei (Shi-Zheng Chen) 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 (Chen Chang), his girlfriend Jing (Qi Shu) and a lesbian singer.

"Three Times" is a pretentious and overrated film with three (boring) short stories of love and communication. I will not extend any additional comment since there is not much to say. My vote is four.

Title (Brazil): Not Available
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Incredibly boring.
ido_yab17 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The warm welcome this movie has received among the art-house crowd is extremely rare, almost unparalleled, and definitely unjustified. At no point did Hsiao-hsien Hou delivered the promised goods - visually, don't expect anything brilliant; the plot somehow moves along in unbelievably slow pace (I mean, come on… we don't need 6 different shots, 15 seconds each, to see a man walk from point A to point B! WE FREAKIN' GET IT! Jesus…). The fact that there is a silent segment would have impressed me, had I lived in the fifties, when it might have been considered 'retro' or original, or if there was but the slightest plot justification for it. One might expect more from a man Jim Jarmusch introduces as a 'treasure'. Most of the crowd at the screening I attended (IFC@NYC) left the theater half way through the movie – and to think this movie is promoted as Hsiao-hsien Hou's most ACCESSIBLE work… LOL. it's about as accessible as quantum mechanics. I would give this movie the lowest rate possible, if it were not for the truly gorgeous female lead (No nudity though). 2 it is.
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An utter travesty. Avoid at all costs.
petcrows11 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
An utter unintelligible unmitigated travesty. Watching the paint peel on your walls at home is a far better activity than patronizing this absurd utter waste of a movie. My god what a waste, a complete and utter waste of my and everyone's time. And I'm sad that my local art house theater choose to show this vacuous film.

A particularly poorly thought out part of the film was during the 1911 section, where the film is shown in color and yet we don't hear anyone speak. Instead the film maker puts up silent film type displays showing what's being said. It was all completely unnecessary and stupid. No showing that section in black and white wouldn't make it any better. But god it's all way too rarified. And for what? For no story at all. Just watching paint peel. I guess that's the message of this film: "Life is boring, ho hum. We may as well turn off the projector and sit in the theater twiddling our thumbs for two hours." The entire "message" of this film could have been conveyed in about five minutes. But what the film producers really are doing is imposing a cruel joke upon art house theaters and independent film goers. We people who enjoy the avant-guard can put up with a lot, and with some experimentation. But what this film does is a complete joke and a waste of time.

To all art house theaters showing this film: Please stop. Stop now, before it's too late. You'll turn away potential supporters for life by showing such dribble one more day.
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Surprisingly unremarkable slow love story trilogy of two characters set in three different eras (1966, 1911, and 2005) of Taiwan
Dilip5 August 2006
Tonight, a friend and I saw the critically acclaimed "Three Times" at a local theatre. The description that the theatre's site had posted is:

'The film features three different stories of love and memory through three time periods, 1966, 1911 and 2005. The first, "A Time for Love," hinges on the meeting of soldier boy Chen with pool hall hostess May and his subsequent search for her. The second episode, "A Time for Freedom," deals with a courtesan tending to a Mr. Chang during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. And the third episode, "A Time for Youth," centers on epileptic singer Jing who casually takes up with photographer Zhen while increasingly ignoring her female lover.'

Neither of us left the film understanding what the commotion could have been about. We both reasonably enjoyed the episode taking place in 1966 - it is sweet and innocent, and all the characters seemed happy. In the 1911 episode, the characters were all imprisoned by duty-bound roles, and happiness was not readily apparent. In the gritty modern 2005 final episode, all trace of innocence and happiness seemed to be whisked away in the detritus of the modern anonymous city.

The best scene for me was in the first part; in the sweet romance blooming between our two protagonists, Chen (played by Chen Chang) reaches his hand down slowly to clasp the hand of May (Qi Shu). But rather than enjoy many such touching scenes, I was left a bit puzzled by the dearth of interest, to me, in the rest of the film.

I had expected that Hsia-hsien Hou, cited as filming subtle scenes of beauty, would have cleverly used the three parallel histories, perhaps weaving them and interchanging them nonlinearly, or somehow relating them. All I saw was the coincidental use of two characters in love stories of three different eras. The film was slow; if it were entirely to have taken place in the 1960s, I could have described "slow" with more positive phrases, such as, perhaps, "subtly engaging" or "innocently unwinding" or maybe even "softly touching". I would give the film 5 1/2 or 6 stars out of 10.

--Dilip Barman, Durham, NC, Friday, August 4, 2006 (quote from Carolina Theatre, Durham NC website)
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A critic's movie
GilBlas6 October 2006
This film is a darling of the critics. Roger Ebert gave it four stars; A. O. Scott of the NY Times describes it, on the DVD's box, as "a masterpiece," adding, "this is why cinema exists." That being the case, if you are, or aspire to be, a devotee of cinema, then this film may be required viewing. But if your sensibilities run toward (mere) movies, beware.

The film, set in Taiwan and China, depicts three love stories -- set in three historical periods: 1911, 1966, and 2005 -- using the same actor and actress. The problem, simply put, is that "Three Times" moves at a glacial pace and little happens. As one of the few critics not to wax euphoric put it, "if this movie moved any slower it could qualify as a photograph." When each segment ended, and when the final credits rolled, the question plaintively asked by Peggy Lee came to mind: Is that all there is?
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The Worst Of Times
writers_reign19 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Charles Dickens once began a novel with 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' and to these Western eyes the latter obtains here. It's a nice touch - though not exactly revolutionary - to have three sets of lovers in three time zones played by the same two actors, Chang Chen and Shu Qi but the third episode is SO out of kilter with the other two (and they don't exactly complement each other) that it totally negates all that has gone before and almost brutalizes the eye. In their different ways the first episode (1966) and the second (19ll) have lots going for them stylistically. The first episode is almost a definition of oriental inscrutability and it is very difficult for a Western eye to comprehend that ANYTHING at all is going on between the man and the girl. Of course the very concept of a girl both working and participating in a snooker hall is alien to Europenas - or at least the English - especially in 1966 which was smack dab in the centre of the 'swinging sixties' when girls were far more preoccupied with the pill, sexual freedom and the drug culture than something as 'old fashioned' as snooker - but if we go along with it as normal in Taiwan there still remains the problem of the all-but-invisible nuances between the couple. The second part is much more stately and comes complete with the equivalent of Title Cards and an off-screen piano accompaniment and has been shot in a manner suggesting an old daguerrotype. By contrast the last segment is in-yer-face and seems to wallow in the worst excesses of modern culture where it is almost impossible to find even one character with whom we can empathize let alone SYMpathize. Those guys and gals who 'teach' film at universities will be creaming in their pants but the rest of us will wonder what all the fuss is about.
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How does one 'spoil' a Hou film, exactly?
chairvaincre1 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I just saw this last night (watching it back-to-back with A Wayward Cloud), and just have a these comments/questions: I like the overall somewhat muted/faded cinematography (not drab, as the uses of color/lighting still stand out strongly - but it's as if a gossamer fog suffuses a perpetually overcast, lukewarm environment) - does anyone know what/if anything was done to treat the film itself to achieve this effect? I also like how sound is used to bridge the mimetic and diegetic aspects of the narrative (the addition of white noise in the first 2 segments, esp the second, for example - i had thought something was wrong w/ my stereo and tried to adjust it!). Diegetic sounds become expressive, and expressive music becomes also a product of their times.

The second segment is probably my favorite. In the first one I think Hou is the most self-assured, and the studied yet natural shots of the pool halls and the trajectories of the balls are simply amazing, but the 'story' I feel is just a little too saccharin for me (on second thought it IS a Time for Love, and nostalgia). The pan-Taiwan shots of the black-and-white town signs as they're traveled to are also great.

The third segment is very slick, and captures the self-involvement yet directionlessness of contemporary Youth well, and the final scene of the moped descending below the bridge, yet the tracking camera stays absolutely level and we simply get a shot of just the bridge, the traffic, the people, the river, the buildings, and the island itself, until the moped ascends & appears again - is sublime.

The middle segment I feel has the most emotional as well as historical weight. There is humor (the silent-movie format - Hou lightly 'experimenting', Shu Qi lipsynching the old Chinese song performance), gorgeous but not obscene sets, more characterization, and resonance. The scene where she walks alongside the Mother down the foyer is great. The repeated lighting of the oil lamp (I like how even when the caption reads Wuchang Uprising, the man goes about the lighting like it's any other day), and then the final injection of 'real' sound (yet it's more silent than before)...there are too many 'moments' to describe.

The triplex structure also extends to the three actresses (including Shu Qi) in each segment, in different roles. The lines 'A Yen sign tattooed on my back, Come on, Name a price, I want to sell my soul, No past, No future, Just the hungry present' are great! (Chu Tienwen is a brilliant writer.) Is there a soundtrack made from the movie?
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Textual healing
najania9 October 2013
The cinema of helmer Hou Hsiao-Hsien is sometimes criticized for thin or truncated plots and lack of character development. Perhaps these criticisms are barking up the wrong tree, as I suspect it works on another plane: his movies are neither narrative- nor character- driven, but atmosphere-driven, for want of a better term. "Three Times" is certainly better appreciated if viewed in this light.

Hou tells three love stories set at different times (hence the English title) over a period of about 100 years (hence the Japanese title, which translates "Hundred-Year Linked Verse"). In each tale, the star-crossed lovers are diligently played by Chang Chen and Shu Qi. The setting is Taiwan for all. The first is set mainly in billiard halls in 1966, which, however, looks and feels more like what would be 1959 if the location were the States. This impression is reinforced by the apt choice of music; the dominant track is the Platters immortal rendition of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," which was released in 1958. We also hear "Rain and Tears," which constitutes a temporal anomaly because it was released in 1968, after the purported time of the story. This is also before the sexual revolution, and the lovers, for all their posturing, are perfectly hesitant, awkward, and unsure. The thirst for love culminates in a tentative reach for the other's hand, merely to hold, at a bus stop.

The second tale is set in an up-scale house of pleasure in 1911, and toward the end comes the news of the outbreak of the Xinhai revolution that eventually overthrew the Qing dynasty. It is told silently, any dialogue being presented in inter-titles. It pairs a refined courtesan with a revolutionary-minded man of letters, whose limits end up breaking her heart as well as dashing her dream of freedom, as the piece is actually titled in Chinese (the "dreams" are rendered "times" in English). Despite the absence of spoken dialogue, music is present in the form of old Chinese songs lip-synched by Shu while accompanying herself on a stringed instrument (possibly a "yueqin") and exquisite improvisation by Taiwanese pianist Constance Lee.

Coming on the heels of the second, the third tale seems like a slap in the face as we find ourselves abruptly speeding down an expressway in the bustling and gray Taipei of the present. Life is fast, too. Shu is Jing, a jagged-edged new-age bisexual chanteuse who projects an icy persona on stage but is fragile, unstable, and subject to epileptic seizures in reality. Chang plays a biker suitor with whom she eventually finds respite, at least for a while, one hopes. In this "time," the two appropriately waste no time getting into the sack, no questions asked, and the music is appropriately techno and hard.

While most reviewers prefer the first Dream of Love, the second dream is clearly the best in my mind. Despite its sluggish pace and what might be taken as temps mort, there is not a single superfluous moment in it. It grinds ever so slowly but inexorably to an emotionally crushing conclusion. The frames are literally pretty as pictures - the comparison by one reviewer here to Vermeer is no exaggeration, especially for one vignette in which the courtesan helps her Mr. Chang dress before a mirror. This is also the extent of physical contact we see between the two, but such restraint only seems to underscore the depth of her love for him.

Running through all three dreams is the leitmotif of text, written with a ballpoint pen in the first, brush and ink in the second, and mobile phone in the third. In the first, Chang's character whiles away his hours at the billiard hall with the hostess right beside him, but when he wants to bare his heart, he writes her a letter. In the last, the web and teletext are where the principals go to get key information and deliver messages of real substance. And in the second, the most poignant scene comes when the courtesan, after reading a letter from the delinquent Mr. Chang, is moved to actually stroke the characters on the paper with her fingers, as if they were the hand that had written them and could give solace for her unrequited love.

A 10 for the middle piece, which could be likened to a single, perfectly executed episode from Hou's "Flowers of Shanghai," and 6 or 7 for the two bookending it.
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Three tales of love...
paul_haakonsen14 May 2013
"Three Times" is not just your average movie, and it definitely is not the type of movie that will broadly appeal to just anyone in the audience.

The movie is roughly two hours long and is divided into three segments, each telling a different love story in a different place, time and environment. But they are set around the same two leads - Shu Qi and Chen Chang.

The first segment is titled "A time for love" and it is set in 1966 taking place in a pool hall where a military enlisted man falls in love with a woman working there. This is my personal favorite of the three segments.

The second segment is titled "A time for freedom" and it is set in 1911. This segment is the strangest and perhaps the most artful of the three, as it is shot mostly without audible dialog. There is a piano playing constantly, and whatever dialogue is there is shown as written text on the screen, like in the old silent movies. The story in this is about a courtesan who falls in love with a political activist. This was the toughest to get through, as it was amazingly slow paced and nothing much happened.

The third and final segment is titled "A time for youth" and it is set in 2005. The story in this segment is about a bisexual singer who is in a relationship with two people, a man and a woman, but things are not all well. This last segment was fairly blend, in my opinion.

I enjoy Asian movies a lot and had to check out this movie as Shu Qi was in it, and also was intrigued as the movie had received fairly well reviews and ratings. Having seen it now, I will say that the movie is entertaining, but it is hardly the type of movie that you will put into the DVD player a second time, as it just doesn't have that much entertainment value to support more than a single watching.

The people in the movie did good jobs with their given roles, and that goes for all three segments, and the director, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, does actually have quite a knack for capturing raw emotions and good imagery on film.
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The theme that binds the 3 features
RonaldCarmichael21 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I believe the recurring theme in the 3 vignettes that binds them together is how love can be fleeting, how love is roving and wandering, that the heart is restless and always in search of something better. These can be seen in some of the vivid symbolic images in the movie.

The first feature has a very vivid imagery in the pool balls constantly bouncing and striking against each other. A constant movement. It symbolizes the relationship (or lack of) between the 2 leads and how one typical day between 2 strangers resulted in a journey across countrysides for the army boy (Chang Chen) in search of the elusive love (Shu Qi) who got away.

The second part was indeed baffling and I think the director got a little carried away by the constant stylish shots of the beautiful era. However, you can see once again how love is wandering and roving, as Shu Qi's character pines for the scholarly / businessman Chang Chen as he travels around and decides to walk away in the end.

In the last feature, I'm sure you notice how carefree the 2 lovers mount on a traveling bike across the highway. The loves are constantly on the move, between houses and lovers. It shows again how the heart moves beyond its comfort zone and towards a newer space.

I hope this helps you to tie down what's the recurring theme/image that binds the 3 vignettes together. And the Oscar chair is rather stiff I must say. Hardly worth of an Oscar.
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jasphen28 April 2006
I saw this film recently as part of the Washington DC film festival. The ideas that the film is trying to evoke - love as context or love outside aural communication - may be nice ones. But they are diluted and then drowned in a vast, vast tidal surge of emptiness that mercilessly assaults the viewer for an agonizing two hours of his or her life that he or she will never, ever, get back. The story and the style could have been presented and preserved in a 10 minute short. The viewer loses all patience - not just with the film's message - but really with life in general. Many members of the audience left the film early. To get to the point: this film is slow, devoid of content significant enough or frequent enough to keep you from falling asleep or wanting to cut yourself just to remind yourself you are alive, and utterly, cripplingly, witheringly, boring. Whatever the stylistic charm with which the message of the film was presented, it is in no way worth the wait or the brain-mincing boredom that runs down your patience like a tank over a student in Tiananmin Square.
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