Three Times

Dir: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Star: Shu Qi, Chang Chen

For a film in which, really, almost nothing happens - and happens at great length, the running time being about 130 minutes - this is more tolerable than you'd think. It's set in three different times, telling the love stories of a trio of men and women (all played by Chang and Shu respectively). It starts in 1966, with a soldier coming back from a tour of duty, and finding that the girl to whom he has been writing, is no longer at the pool-hall where she worked. Then, we go back to 1911, where a courtesan pines for a rich client, a poet who is also a political activist, who patronizes her on a very sporadic basis. Finally, we are back in modern Taipei, where a photographer and a nightclub singer have a one-night stand, then have to deal with the fallout in their respective relationships. The three stories were originally supposed to have had three different directors, but the budget ended up not stretching to that, so Hou took them all on himself

There seems to be a law of diminishing returns here. The first story is nicely put together, and succeeds, in its own, quiet way, despite an almost total lack of drama. The second suffers somewhat due to the director adopting the style of a silent movie - for no real point, and only for the dialogue - music, etc. proceeds as normal. It's the longest of the three and fairly talky, so there are plenty of times when you are watching characters, literally, flapping their lips, and you can do nothing but wait for the intertitle. Still, it's better than the finale, which features largely uninteresting characters about whom you're given little or no reason to case. By the end, you've had more than enough of them, and are left with the sense that the original plan, of different directors for each story, might have worked better.

[August 2012]

Third time's the harm
See also...
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