Three Times

(Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2005) Three Times is a film in three parts that depicts vexed love affairs in three separate eras: 1966, 1911 and 2005. Each story is set in Taiwan, and each stars the same leads: Qi Shu as pool-hall girl, courtesan, or club hopper, and Chen Chang as soldier, businessman, or friend. The actors shift between character and era seamlessly, inspired by the changing sets which frame them with precise corners and folds. Hou’s film is as much set-piece as character study, and each part has a look distinct from the others: the 1966 story looks like a Color Field canvas with clean, square blocks of damp green; the 1911 story is a filigreed Chinese-box saturated with reds (and presented like a silent film, intertitles and all); and the 2005 story glints with the stainless-steel tones of modern-day Taipei, often shot at night and warmed by glowing zinc bars and fluorescent tubes. Each era is absolutely genuine onscreen and palpable – detached, oppressive or frenetic, whatever the case may be. Three Times is typical Hou: the problems of love and culture are explored at a languid pace, the detail is exquisite, and the people onscreen are presented like impressions with flesh and bones – real but fleeting. — Ranylt Richildis

(Originally published as part of In Review Online’s The 100 Best Films of the Decade feature, in February 2010.)

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