Shu Qi and Chang Chen are the actors playing three different sets of lovers, in 1911, 1966 and 2005, in this unusually beautiful film from director Hou Hsiao-hsien. All three stories take place in Taiwan and focus on love in different manifestations – love in its glorious first flush, love thwarted, and love carnal – to show how milieu and mores affect what is usually seen as an immutable, timeless emotion. In 1911 a republican activist gets caught up in the world of a concubine. In 1966 a military conscript falls for a hostess at a pool hall. In 2005 a photographer loses his heart to a singer. Hou places the 1911 story in the middle, in an approximation of a silent movie, a perfect form for the expression of love thwarted, unexpressed, held back. The other two more active, expressive stories act as bookends. All are beautifully observed and Hou makes no attempt to link them thematically. But they do all feature the same central actors, which does the work for him.
And that’s all there is to Three Times… love. It’s an oddly head-on way to treat a topic that provides the thematic meat for about 50 per cent of all movies. In fact you could almost see the whole love business as incidental, a string on which to hang period detail, production design and cinematography. Because if there is something that really makes this film stand out, apart from the beauty of actress Shu Qi, is its gorgeousness. Almost any second could be screengrabbed and stuck in Vogue. How strange that we don’t get to see more of Mr Hou in the West.
© Steve Morrissey 2006