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September 27, 2006

Three Times


Zui hao de shi guang
Hou Hsiao-hsien - 2005
IFC Films Region 1 DVD

I was hoping to see Three Times in a theater. The only Hou film I have seen in a theater, Millenium Mambo, is my favorite. I'm not certain whether this is due to seeing the film on the big screen, although slower, more deliberately paced films do seem to play better in a theatrical setting than on a televison screen which almost demands more visceral types of entertainment. Is it some kind of cultural misunderstanding? I have to admit that for all of the reverence accorded Hou, I feel like I'm missing something when I see his films, and I have seen about eight of them.

The premise of Three Times is interesting - with Shu Qi and Chang Chen portraying three couples in three different time periods - 1911, 1966 and 2005. Hou shoots each period in a different visual style. What links the stories in addition to the actors is that the stories primarily take place in interior settings, creating a sense of restriction of space. Additionally, each narrative hinges on communications between Chang and Shu. The letters received in 1911 and 1966 have been replaced by text messages in 2005.

The 1911 sequence is the most problematic. Except for singing in the beginning and at the end, this section is silent, with titles indicating the dialogue. Hou is reported to have chosen to this format because he could not accurately reproduce the Taiwanese dialect of that time. The sequence pretty much works, but Hou's motivation to make it a silent film makes me think of William Faulker who complained when writing Land of the Pharoahs, that he didn't know how ancient Egyptians talked.

The 1966 sequence is both the most accessible and the most successful. Chang portrays a soldier on leave who travels from city to city in search of Shu, a girl he met once when she worked at a pool hall. The film is bridged by pop songs from the era, most notably "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes".

The 2005 sequence is the most visually adventurous I've seen by Hou. The camera roams around more actively, with Hou cutting into extreme closeups. Usually viewing action from a polite distance, this sequence is more intimate than what I have seen from Hou's previous films. This final sequence suggests a reflection of the lack of space in Taipei, that the crowding of people will force us to look at them more closely, while the pursuit of physical and psychological space becomes more difficult.

Posted by peter at September 27, 2006 05:16 PM