Sunday, April 15, 2012

Three Times (Hsiao-Hsien Hou, 2005)

 Hou Hsiao-Hsien, a celebrated filmmaker from Taiwan, presents a romantic drama in his own style -  gentle pacing and magnificent visuals that are worth a thousand word. The film boasts of three sublime love stories that are separated by time but unified by the same male-female lead actors. The faces are kept the same (Shu Qi and Chang Chen) across time periods so as to suggest the immortality of love? To suggest that the prototypical characters in love never change only the contexts keep redesigned by socio-political circumstances?  The first story A Time for Love takes place in 1966 when a young soldier falls in love with a pool hall hostess. The boy awaits a war deployment that comes at the expense of his blossoming romance. The girl keeps changing towns in-between to earn her livelihood. A parade of love letters communicate their feelings for each other that comes to its fruition at the end. Hsiao-Hsien's perfect framings and apt choice of the sound tracks (Aphrodite Child's "Rain and Tears" and Platters' "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes") recreate the magic of In the Mood for Love (2000) by Kar Wai WongThe setting of the second story A Time for Freedom is 1911 when the Chinese Revolution led to the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty. Hsiao-Hsien presents the story as a silent film, in accordance with the background of the film. The boy who is a regular visitor to a brothel wants to start a newspaper and be on the frontline of the on-going freedom struggle. The girl is a prostitute in the brothel who languishes in love for the boy and awaits freedom. Communications between them are established by scarcely dispersed letters. While the boy is all warmed up for the freedom struggle, he fails to see through the servitude of the girl which can be broken by only him.Love remains unfulfilled in a world where individual freedom is engulfed by desire for collective liberation. The modern day story named A Time for Youth is set in 2005 Taiwan.Here a bi-sexual woman is slowly nearing death but is caught in two romantic affairs, with a photographer and a teenage girl. The characters have all the modern means of communication (the computers and cell phones) and still struggle to communicate in the language of love. Their selfish infatuation with the modern day gadgets only take them away from each other.  Love desperately searches for a humane language in a selfish world of machines. The stories have no deep and multi-layered messages as one would expect from such cinematic endeavors.The subtext is simple yet profound and is mostly captured by silent gestures and moments of contemplation. Of the three stories, the first one stayed with me much after the last light had awakened. It is the purity of love and romantic innocence that will once again cast their magical spell on you. 

The film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2005 Cannes Film festival.

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