It suprised me to find out after watching Three Times that director Hsiao-hsien Hou has directed over 10 films. He is a director that was completely below my radar and I only recently heard of three times even though it was technically a 2005 release. This is one of many reasons I someday soon hope to purchase a region-free dvd player.
Three Times tells a story of love at three different times in China. The same actor an actress play the lovers in a three seperate stories set in 1911, 1966, and 2005. Unlike The Fountain which used the same actors for three different love stories through time as well, in Three Times the lovers are three distinctly different couples. Hou uses three different stories to show the difficulty of love, or how one can be so close to love and yet not fully embrace it.
The first of the three stories is titled A Time for Love. It is 1966 and a young woman is working at a pool hall where she meets a soldier who is being sent away for duty. When he returns from duty to find her he finds she is no longer working at that pool hall and travels different towns in search of finding her.
The second, A Time for Freedom is set in 1911. Here, a political activist or writer visits a prostitute or geisha. She has clearly fallen for him, and there is a unique closeness between the too. His travels and her hesitancy to make her feelings known keeps love at arms length.
Finally, in the third A Time for Youth, it's 2005. A woman pop singer is loved by her girlfriend but finds herself, at least at times more drawn to a male photographer who is pursuing her.
A common link in all of these three stories seems to be the emotional distance between lovers. And more often than not this distance is brought on by the lovers themselves. In that way it reminds me of some of the films of Wong Kar-Wai. But, unlike most of those films, the action here is hardly kinetic. In each of the three stories any action that is to be had unfolds extremely slowly. In the first story, our first moments of dialogue aren't until 5 minutes in. The second story, set in 1911, is told in the style of a silent film. In the thrird we also have many more moments of the lovers walking sround room to room, or in the streets silently than we have dialogue.
There are moments throughout these three stories though that a song moves the action along. In each of these three stories music plays a key role, and might have been best used in the first story, A Time for Love where "Smoke gets in your Eyes by The Platters is a recurring theme.
Truth told, I put in Three Times two nights ago and watched about twenty minutes of it before realizing that I wouldn't be able to devote it the attention it deserves. Their is an intricate attention to detail in nearly every shot. The shots in various pool rooms are more beautiful than I imagined pool rooms ever being. The pacing of the film allows shots like those and the greyness of the city in A Time for Youth to just wash over you. The film requires an extremely patient viewer, but if viewed patiently Three Times is surely worth the time.