Three Times Movie Review
The first section, titled "A Time for Love," concerns Chen (Chang Chen), a soldier who silently plays pool on leave and writes love letters to pool-hall girls while he is away. When he returns from leave, he finds that the last girl has been replaced by May (Shu Qi), a breathtaking woman in a flower dress. They say very few words, but he promises to write her while away. When he returns and she has been replaced, he searches through several small towns just to spend one night next to her.
The second section, "A Time for Freedom," is as bold a cinematic statement as can be made these days: a silent film, for the most part, anyway. Hsiao-hsien returns to the concubine era of his masterful Flowers of Shanghai to tell the story of a diplomat who can't allow the feelings and bravery he has for his countrymen to extend to a concubine that he frequents. Until the last three minutes, there is only the delicacy of a piano and the high-tone sound of an old Taiwanese love song. It has to be seen to be believed.
Lastly, there is "A Time for Youth," a present-day mishmash of emotional and sexual tribulations that revisits the blues and greens of Hsiao-hsien's Millenium Mambo. Jing, a bisexual pop singer, starts cheating on her girlfriend with her photographer, Zhen. They write small poems to each other and sneak off to tiny rooms to strip each other down and get to the nitty-gritty while their significant others grapple with why they aren't loved.
Hou has never been an easy director to embrace. Earlier works like Flowers of Shanghai, Good Men, Good Women, and The Puppetmaster deal in the kind of flat narratives filled with lush characters, muted emotions, and luminous colors that tend to be more like cinematic Chekhov. With last year's mesmerizing Café Lumiere and now this, Hou has somewhat opened up to a more familiar narrative drive that will garner him some much due attention.
All the magic in the world is in the first section. Hou takes a simple, unspoken love story and fills it with textures and colors that speak of all the great simplicity of just feeling right next to someone. It sounds cheesy, but see if you don't feel the same way. Hsiao-hsien has staked his claim as one of the last living lovers of cinema's ability to tell stories without much dialogue; the silence in his films says more than a thousand Rob Reiner movies. It's doubtful that anyone has a more beautiful remembrance of a pool hall, or even one that doesn't involve loud explicatives and a Budweiser banner.
Aka Zui hao de shi guang.