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This is the second trilogy of short stories about love that I have encountered recently. The first was Eros, where three different directors (including In the Mood For Love’s Wong Kar-wai) all contributed their own visions of love. Each offered a very different perspective, with different actors and a unique style. The same was the original intention for Three Times, with three different directors recalling some of the best moments from their lifetime. When the project was shelved, it fell upon the one remaining director, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, to make all three stories. He took the opportunity to stamp the compilation with his own distinctive mark and cast the lovely Shu Qi (who he had previously worked with on Millennium Mambo) as the lead in all three parts.

Three Times

Feature


The first part of Three Times is entitled A Time for Love and is set in 1966 Taiwan, on a small island where a young woman, May, runs a pool hall. A young man, Chen, often frequents this hall, and the two spend some time playing together. Back in mainland China, the Cold War is at its height and the country is undergoing its Cultural Revolution, but for these two there is little more than shooting balls and companionship. Soon Chen leaves for National Service, but he continues his relationship with May by writing to her regularly. Will fate bring these two back together once more?

For the next part, A Time for Freedom, we drop back fifty years to 1911, and find our characters in a brothel, sorry, I mean parlour house, where a young courtesan entertains wealthy men. She has her eyes on one particular man, however, a Mr. Chang. Unfortunately this was a time when Taiwan was still under the rule of Japan and Mr. Chang seems more interested in the Chinese Revolution than in his lady-friend. Will he eventually take her as his concubine, as she so desperately wants?

The final part, A Time for Youth, brings us right up to date. Set in 2005 Taipei, it follows Jing, a singer/songwriter who lives with her photographer boyfriend and spends a great deal of time on the 'net. She's both epileptic and also losing the eyesight in one eye, and aside from her main boyfriend, she also enjoys the company of a girlfriend on the side. But despite the freedom that this young woman has in the post-millennium world, can she actually find happiness?

Three Times
Three Times is a quaint, stylishly-told trilogy of love stories where words often go unspoken (the entire second part is filmed silently using just dialogue cards) and where the simplest of gestures can mean so very much. You can see how the innocence of the first two parts is lost for the third, where the gestures remain but now go completely unnoticed. I think that this was Hou Hsiao-Hsien's intention: to show how times have changed and how the freedom that we now enjoy has distracted us away from the focus that lovers had on one another back in the day. His own private tale is the first— A Time for Love—which is also the warmest of the stories here. Perhaps it also shows the best of both worlds, where things are neither as constrained as they were when Japan was ruling, nor as free as they are now—free enough for people to lose focus.

At the heart of each tale is the beautiful, talented Shu Qi. Fans will probably know her for her contributions in movies like Seoul Raiders and that Eye sequel, but Western audiences will recognise her participation opposite Jason Statham in the original Transporter movie. Here she perfectly encapsulates the lead girl in each of the three tales. Despite how different the roles are, she takes on the new guise and embraces the individual characters in such a way as to almost make you forget that it is the same actress for each sequence. The same can be largely said of her co-star Chang Chen (from Wong Kar-wai's 2046), excellent in particular as the young snooker-playing man flirting with the pool-hall girl. His role in the third segment is not quite as substantial, but perhaps that was because the focus was more on Shu Qi's Jing.

I am not sure what this trilogy of short stories would have been like if they had been filmed by different directors—as was originally intended—and I don't much care that the director, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, has made movies that covered the same concepts before, because this is a very enjoyable short story trilogy indeed. Three Times is a lovely, subtle, understated and stylistically superior collection of moving tales about three very different times in the history of Taiwan, and the relationships that went on therein. Recommended.

Three Times

Video


Three Times is presented with a sumptuous 1.85:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. Detail is frankly excellent throughout, with very little softness indeed, negligible grain, little noticeable edge enhancement and simply no print defects. The colour palette is quite broad—whether showcasing the freshness of 1966, the wood-based ornate 1911 or the neon-lit, smoky bar 2005, the colour schemes are lovingly handled. Overall it is a superior effort.

Audio


In terms of audio presentation, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is slightly lacklustre. Dialogue (the little that there is) is presented quite clearly from the frontal array, but this collection is probably more about appropriate scoring than about words. The first part is carried largely by 1960s pop music from America, the second has some rather irritating singing by Shu Qi (okay, it may have been the music of the time, but she sang and looked like a badly-programmed robot) but some beautiful piano scoring and the second has yet more singing from Shu Qi, this time on-stage and beautiful. Still, all this music could have been given more room on the surrounds and instead this sometimes comes across as little more than a two-channel offering (especially when you compare it to the Dolby 2.0 track that is also an option here). At least the English subtitles are superior and resoundingly coherent throughout.

Three Times

Extras


The main extra that we get is an interview with the director Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Lasting twenty-five minutes, it is almost as good as a commentary, with the director talking at length about how this project came into existence, how personal it was for him (the first tale was directly about his experiences being drafted into National Service), wanting to give Shu Qi a second chance, how he had covered these themes in previous movies, where he shot the sequences, the changing political climates in Taiwan, and the fact that the second part was filmed silently only because they did not have the time to train the actors in the language of the period. It is a very informative offering, and climaxes with an interesting look at some of the gala showings of the movie, where the lovely Shu Qi steps upon the red carpet. Fans should check out this decent extra.

We also get text filmographies for both the director Hou Hsiao-Hsien and for Shu Qi, along with the two-and-a-half minute trailer for the main feature, which does a reasonable job of painting a picture of this production without giving too much away.

Three Times

Overall


Fans of the work of Wong Kar-wai and, of course, Hou Hsiao-Hsien himself are likely to enjoy the subtle exploration of love that is Three Times. In terms of technical presentation, this DVD release is largely good, let down slightly by an average audio offering, but brought back up by superior video and a resoundingly watchable extra. Three Times comes recommended.


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