Three Times (2005)

Reid, 17. December 2007, 15:09

Hsiao-Hsien Hou
Starring: Qi Shou, Chen Chang

Kevin did you see this? I’m not sure if you’re going to like this, but I’m pretty sure the style and approach is something that will appeal to you a lot. I recommend it. I really liked the direction, although I have to say that there were a lot of distractions while watching this, so I probably missed imortant details and didn’t get to fully digest the film. It’s hard to say how much other idiots would like this, but some of you would be interested in elements of it, but many others would not be interested at all.

The film is made up of three different vignettes, each taking place at a different time period in China (1911, 1966 and 2005). What struck me was restraint in filmmaking creating a minimalist–or maybe a better word is reductionist–film. The vignettes reminded me of films like F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise or Wong-kar Wai’s films that seem to focus on a particular universal situations (e.g. husband and wife fighting and making up), except Hou leaches out most of the dramatic situations, leaving behind very quiet and mundane moments. It almost seems as if Hao is trying to find the most mundane and simple moments to convey universal situations and heartful emotions. However, it’s not just the situations that are mundane, but there’s a severe restraint and austerity to the acting as well. Most of the times the actors have neutral expressions and body language. Every so often subtle expressions or simple gestures appear, the effect can be quietly moving. (For example, the couple holding hands in the first vignette.) These moments before or after more dramatic ones can be really effective because they leave the powerful moments for the viewer to imagine. When it works, it can be haunting and powerful.

To the most effective was the first vignette entitled, “A Time for Love.” I probably liked it the most because I understood it the best. I also loved composition and cinetmatography, particularly the Ozu-influenced repeated shot of the pool table and outside entrance.

Hou seemed to use the other vignettes to make sociological or cultural comment beyond depicting certain emotions or telling a story, and I think that’s partly why I didn’t appreciate them. (The first story also has a politics/history in the background, as the male character is heading off to war, but I could appreciate the story without knowing very much about those details.) Actually, the characters’ stories seem to move in parallel with the historico-politico situation of the time they occur.

The second story, “A Time for Freedom” seems to be about the “slavery” of the female character and the China being under Japanese power. I think the tragedy was supposed to lie in the fact that the man grieves over China’s lack of indepedence, while failing to feel anything for the woman’s. Still, that seems a little simplistic and unsatsifying.

The third story, “A Time for Youth” has the feeling of a moral lesson, like a slight chastisement of Westernization/modernation of contemporary China? That sounds dumb. I should watch this film and Hou’s other films.

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