Zui hao de shi guang / Three Times

Zui hao de shi guang / Three Times (2005)

Three times in one movie? Well color me jealous

Director: Hou Hsiao Hsien
Writers: Chu T’ien Wen, Hou Hsiao Hsien
Date: 2005

Genre: Love Story
Description: 3 stories, 3 different time periods but 1 love story, 1911, 1966, 2005, symmetry, beauty, communication, love

Cast: Shu Qi, Chang Chen

Crew of note: Cinematographers of China/Taiwan/HK: Lee Pin Bing (who worked this one) >= Christopher Doyle 🙂

Runtime: 132 mins.
Color: Color

Shu Qi works in a brothel, and Chang Chen wants her
Chang Chen is a visiting soldier who encounters Shu Qi at a pool bar
Chang Chen and Shu Qi…. hang out?

That’s probably the worst summary I’ve ever made, but I don’t think there’s any point in discussing the summary. Actually, they’re arranged 1966, 1911 and 2005. All you need to know is it’s three love stories, three stories about alienation, loneliness, communication, and connectedness.

It is difficult for me to explain why I love this so much. There are three stories, but in fact very little happens, and little is said. However, a lot is shown and the differences in each time period’s things, or materiality if you can call it that, that belie the similarities in their symbolism and themes is fascinating. The radio and pool table, the jewels and old dresser, the bike and the electronics… just some of the objects that fill Hou’s time periods.

Though the three segments can seem detached from one another, the use of the same characters creates solidarity, and in fact adds a layer of possibilities to the movie’s meaning. Could they be the same souls that find each other three times? Are they the same people that live out different lives dictated by circumstances and history? Why do they keep finding each other? What are they thinking to each other (as if they know what the other thinks)? I believe it is a mistake to ask questions in a review, yet many of these questions I still consider long after having seen the film, which probably would not have happened had Hou used three different sets of actors. Chang Chen and Shu Qi shine, and throughout the three segments I had this strange feeling that they were the same characters. And really, this is a good thing.

Wrap this all up in Lee Pin Bing’s beautiful colors, and Hou’s unintrusive, silent and still camera, and you’ve got a pretty picture with pretty actors in this beautiful film. Perhaps I have yet to make a good case for the movie, but I am at wits end. There are just some films that strike a cord in your deepest self, and this is one such movie that has absolutely moved me. I really don’t know what else to say.

Note: Some reviewers mention that Hou has more fleshed out versions of these segments in his other films, but this is wrong. Some compare 1911 to Flowers of Shanghai, but the events are almost 50 years apart. 1966 is about 20 years too early to be similar to Hou’s three personal 1980s films (A Time to Live, Dust in the Wind, and Summer at Grandpa’s). They might explore the same themes, but that’s about it. The only real similarity is in 2005 and Millennium Mambo, especially since they both star Shu Qi in a seemingly identical role. Still, 1/3 isn’t a good score. So this is certainly unique in Hou’s filmography.

Hou isn’t known for his love stories (this is his only one, really), but his trademark themes of alienation, loneliness, communication, and connectedness–all essential yet possibly overlooked in the understanding of love–are explored with such insight that this becomes a truly special movie. The use of the same 2 actors in all three segments adds yet another layer of possible meanings. It can be frustrating how Hou tells us very little, but if you have the patience to think about what these things mean, and what could be, Three Times can be an unparalleled experience. This is a masterpiece.

things to take note of
Chang Chen and Shu Qi, their characters, and how they communicate
The different ways the three parts are filtered (the color)
The light
The many symbols, possible meanings, etc.

best moment
The beginning
The empty billiard hall or the final scene
The bike ride or the shots in the room

why you should watch this
Because Hou Hsiao Hsien is one of my favorite directors, and this is my favorite of his
One of the most beautifully colored and shot movies of this and most decades
Chang Chen
Shu Qi
The lighting is brilliant
Hou is a master of alienation/connectedness and loneliness/communication themes
I made a review for this even though I had nothing substantial to say (and I probably just babbled above), just so this movie could be represented on here

rating: 9 – it would be more, but it’s a movie that is easy to find frustrating/boring, so I hesitate to hike it up. Otherwise it’d be more like a 9.4

Plot: B
Cast: A
Cinematography: A
Music: A
Entertainment: B+ (at least for me)

similar movies, maybe:
Dolls by Kitano Takeshi, in that there are three stories and they are about love. Sort of. Different actors though, and all in the present.