Taiwanese auteur Hou Hsiao-Hsien's Three Times is a lyrical trilogy based on three different kinds of romance. Set firstly in 1966, then 1911, and finally 2005, it stars the same two actors, Shu Qi and Chang Chen, as leads in each story. A Golden Palm nominee at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival, Three Times is definitely one for arthouse buffs and fans of Asian cinema looking to restore their factory settings after an overdose of kung fu fighting.
Episode one: A Time For Love, is a simple boy-meets-girl tale, which is remarkable only for its photography and the lead female character's incredibly stylish wardrobe. The next episode: A Time for Freedom is presented like an old silent film and apart from a moving performance from Qi as an upmarket prostitute, is utterly tedious. The final story: A Time For Youth is a pessimistic tale of two narcissistic arty types who cast aside their lovers so they can spend more time gazing into each others' eyes.
As a trilogy, it's a bleak assessment of love in the past century: whether unrequited, mercenary or deliberately meaningless. However, the performances are strong throughout, with Shu particularly radiant as each of the three female characters. Hsiao-Hsien reinforces his excellent cinematography with a bold use of music, featuring The Platters' Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, but ultimately the running time could have been halved and he would still have made his point. Intriguing, but not uplifting.
In Mandarin and Taiwanese with English subtitles.