Monday, October 24, 2011

THREE TIMES

Taiwan Film Festival
Cinema 4, Shang Cineplex




This film is a trilogy about love. 3 love stories, set in 3 different periods with a pair of lead actors playing the couple in each era. Respectively set in 1911, 1966 and 2005, the stories not only capture the essence of their time, but also presents three varieties of love: unfulfilled, mercenary, meaningless. It is historically and humanly insightful. All photographed with such visual beauty amidst poignant subtlety and set to an appropriately haunting musical score.

"A Time for Love" is set in 1966, Chen, a young soldier falls for May, a pool hall hostess. An era where American pop culture invades Taiwan so the romance develops with standards such as the Platters' "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and Aphrodite Child's "Rain and Tears." The guy is to be deployed overseas to help the noble cause of freedom at the expense of his budding romance. But they keep the romance going through the exchange of heartwarming letters which don't openly declare love but merely hints at it with much caution.

In "A Time for Freedom", the story unfolds in 1911 where Ah Mei, a courtesan pines for a married diplomat named Chang who is her client. He is very filled with his own importance and has plans to reform the world. She begins to fall in love with him. He loves her, too albeit not at the same level. His love for his country weighs much more than his feelings for the courtesan. The movie is shot like a silent film where the dialogue is conveyed by title cards. The action is slow, while elaborate music plays. When the courtesan sings a traditional song, it's like a cry of pain; love, here, is a prison.

The 3rd story, "A Time for Youth" takes place in 2005 in modern Taipei. Jing is a troubled pop singer while Zhen is a photographer. She neglects her woman lover while falling in love with the photographer. It unfolds in urban jungle Taipei with its gray concrete and blue light with many night shots. They are caught up in living noisy and busy lives that keep them at a disconnect despite all the modern conveniences of being connected with the use of the cell phone and Internet. It shows a world where our lovers can unite happily, but regrettably they find themselves unable to recognize love, much less hunger for it. Their selfish lives are disconnected and pretty much defined by modern technology.

I enjoyed the first episode, best. The one set in 1966 was the kind of romantic story that overwhelms because of its simplicity, emotional resonance and subtlety. It is the purest, most unashamedly romantic of the trilogy. I was mostly struck by the cinematography and framing of the shots along with the use of great songs to convey emotions. In one of his letters, the young soldier says to his love interest, the pool hall hostess, May: "Stay beautiful." Wow!

The lives in "Three Times" are not tragedies, unless the tragedy is that they never become the lives they could have been. The director Hou Hsiao-hsien shows us people who could make each other happy and be happy themselves, and he also watches them miss their chance. But it isn't sadness. It's simply realism in its purest form.

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