Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Three Times

Hsaio-hsien Hou, Taiwan, 2005 (8.3*)
This is a film in three parts, really more like three short films. The only thing they have in common is actress Shu Qi, who stars in each story, along with Chang Chen who plays her romantic interest in each.

The first story is "Time for Love". Shu Qi plays a hostess in a poolroom, and after she leaves a young man who left to serve in the army returns and searches for her. This is a gentle story about love awakening, with tender scenes of shyness and unfamiliarity that should be in everyone's memory.

The second story is "Time for Freedom", and it's the part that stands out as not fitting the film. It's the story of a courtesan in a brothel around 1910, and it really looks like a lost section of Hou 1998 film Flowers of Shanghai, about courtesans in a Shanghai brothel in 1880, a film Shu Qi was not in; maybe Hou wishes she had been. The disconcerting part of this is that when the characters speak, there's no sound, only piano music, then we get silent era placards with their dialogue well after it's spoken. There was no reason to inflict viewers with this, as concurrent subtitles would have sufficed.

The last story is "Time for Youth". Shu Qi plays a young woman with epilepsy, who lives with her lesbian lover, but becomes interested in a male photographer, who usually photographs female models. This has some exhilirating motorcycle footage, a la Wong Kar-Wai in Fallen Angels. Once again, a Hou film has a cinematic tribute to Wong, who has mentioned Kar-Wai in interviews; I think he sees himself as the Taiwan equivalent of what Kar-Wai is for Hong Kong cinema.

I suppose it's inevitable that comparisons be made with Max Ophuls' La Plaisir, three De Maupassant short stories about French romance. In fact, when Ophuls made his, these 3 part films were in vogue in Europe and the U.S. Perhaps Wong Kar-Wai has started this modern revival, with his Chungking Express and Fallen Angels, which were intended to be one long film with three parts but was cut into two films due to length, and which inspired Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (in his words), also in three parts.

Two parts of this film warrant a rating of 9, unfortunately the center portion gets about a 6 due to the unnecessary silent film pastiche. However, that section does have a beautiful color palette (see photo below)
Winner of 4 awards, out of 14 nominations

All these films of Hou's have won either best director or best film somewhere: Flowers of Shanghai; Good Men, Good Women; A Summer at Grandpa's; Tong Nien Wang Shi; In the Hands of a Puppet Master; Millennium Mambo; Three Times; Cafe Lumiere


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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