21 March 2009

THREE TIMES / ZUI HAO DE SHI GUANG (Dir. Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 2005, Taiwan/France)

'Three Times' is a beguiling viewing experience and proves to be a worthy companion piece to Wong Kar Wai's masterpiece of unrequited love, 'In the Mood for Love'. Hou Hsiao-Hsien's control over every single aspect of the frame is refreshing to see. This is such a beautifully judged film and succeeds in capturing relationships without reverting to sentimental pondering and pointless reams of dialogue. The first section titled 'A Time for Love' is set in 1966 and is somewhat of a masterpiece in terms of cinematographic compositions; Hou Hsiao-Hsien has an envious natural instinct for knowing how long to hold a shot without making it seem redundant. The other remarkable achievement of this first section is the delicate pacing and inspired use of music that is used to capture an aspect of life (two people falling in love) which to me is very difficult to represent on screen without resorting to an emotional bankruptcy. 'A time for freedom' forms the second segment of the narrative and is set in 1911 but Hou Hsiao-Hsien's bold decision to shoot this part as a silent movie is both frustrating and equally rewarding.

Where the film falters slightly is in the third and final section titled 'A time for Youth', which brings the narrative up to date by focusing squarely on contemporary Taiwanese society and its relationship with the alienated youth of today. I felt this final section somehow didn't work as well as the other two and maybe that has largely to do with the deeply morbid tone which is maintained throughout. What was quite striking though about this final section was the moving image of our two lovers on a motorcycle, speeding across a bridge and contemplating on the uncertainty of their fragmented relationship. This is my first Hou Hsiao-Hsien experience and I am still trying to figure out why such an important world cinema film maker has not crossed my cinematic radar before. I am looking forward to working through his body of work, that is if I can get hold of his films on DVD.

The following extract is taken from a very complicated but worthwhile appreciation of the film by a Norwegian film critic from the senses of cinema website:

Considerations of brevity allow this author to present merely a fraction of what ought to be known about this film. The unravelling of its dense, beautiful patterns is an integral part of experiencing it, and its complexity mirrors our information-saturated and impenetrable modern life, which art should reflect and of which Three Times is an outstanding example. It is an emotional film with an intellectual heart.

The Complexity of Minimalism: Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Three Times by Dag Sødtholt, 2006
http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/06/39/three_times.html

1 comment:

  1. Although my film viewing habits have gone down a lot, yet I keep a tab on re-watching shots or scenes of directors I admire.

    One such movie is Three Time. It defines in a way three phases of the directors own cinematic growth, from the emergence of the New Wave and his preoccupation with representation of Taiwanese history down to capturing the New Taiwan...one that somewhat started with Millenium Mambo.

    The first part of Three Times continues to be my favorite. Though, for me, City of Sadness, The Puppetmaster, Goodbye South Goodbye are his masterpieces.

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