With virtually every shot a small, polished jewel of composition and color, Hou Hsiao Hsien's tripartite ode to love and his native Taiwan is told in three separate stories set in three different time periods, but all starring the same actress and actor. It's simply one of the most beautiful films he's made to date. The first "time" is "A Time for Love,"...read more
With virtually every shot a small, polished jewel of composition and color, Hou Hsiao Hsien's tripartite ode to love and his native Taiwan is told in three separate stories set in three different time periods, but all starring the same actress and actor. It's simply one of the most beautiful films he's made to date. The first "time" is "A Time for Love," set in 1966, when a pretty young woman named May (Shu Qi) arrives in Kaohsiung and finds a job as a hostess at a billiards parlor. One day a good looking soldier named Chen (Chang Chen) arrives looking for Haruko, the parlor's previous hostess with whom he'd fallen in love, but learns that she's since moved on. After shooting a few games with May, he finds that she strikes his fancy even more, and promises to write to her, just as he wrote to Haruko. But when he returns to from Taipei where he's stationed, he finds that May, too, has left Kaohsiung. This time, however, Chen is determined to find her. Shot in rich tones and scored by classic songs by the Platters ("Smoke Gets in Your Eyes") and Aphrodite's Child ("Rain and Tears), "A Time for Love" is a small, sweetly romantic masterpiece. "A Time for Freedom" is set in Dadaocheng, 1911. In a tony brothel catering to wealthy Taiwanese men, a beautiful courtesan (Shu Qi) has fallen in love with a married, reform minded diplomat, Mr. Chang (Chang Chen), who opposes both Japan's continuing sovereignty over Taiwan and such repressive traditional Chinese customs as the keeping of concubines. Regardless of his personal feelings on the matter, Mr. Chang offers to help the married son of an esteemed family buy out the contract of the courtesan whom he's gotten pregnant so that she can marry him and live as his concubine. Mr. Chang's liberality, however, does not apply either to himself or to the woman who he knows loves him, and who dreams of one day escaping the brothel as his second wife. Hou shot the segment as a silent picture with a musical accompaniment and titles cards in place of spoken dialogue, and emotions are conveyed through a series of glances and subtle reactions (the entire episode is a tour de force for Shu Qi). Here the unsayable is quite literally left unsaid. Like the late novels of Henry James or the films of Hou's spiritual master, Ozu, the placid surface reflects the good manners and stiff propriety of the period, but barely contains the passion roiling just below. A heartbreaker. "A Time for Youth" is set in Taipei, 2005, where an epileptic rock singer named Jing (Shu Qi) has taken a new lover, Zhen (Chang Chen), a photographer, behind her female lover's back. Zhen also has a girlfriend, but that doesn't stop him from text messaging Jing his love and loneliness. Strongly recalling MILLENIUM MAMBO, Hou's recent exploration into love and emptiness in the postmodern age, it's the weakest of the lot, but still gorgeous to look at.
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