“Three Times”

It wasn’t easy to sit through this 139 minutes movie. I’ve been trying to look back and to figure out why.

The very run-down Roxie theatre in the Mission has definitely seen better days. The chairs were old and uncomfortable. The theatre was either pitch black or torture-light bright, depends on whether the lone bulb was on. The screen was small, and for some reason, the 4:30pm show in the Sunday afternoon was very popular. So the already tiny place was crowded with people. All these don’t add pleasure to the movie watching experience. But that is not really the main reason. We’ve seen plenty artsy fartsy movies in tiny rundown theatres, and we’ve enjoyed plenty of them.

The movie is very slow. But that’s not the reason to not liking it. We’ve enjoyed “June Bug”, which is plenty slow with stationary frames that shows still-life like scenery with nothing happening for minutes on end. We liked “June Bug.”

My eventual conclusion is the lousy 1/3 of the movie happened to be the last 1/3, making it extremely hard to finish watching till the very end. The movie composed of three love stories happened in 1966, 1911, and 2005, shown in that order. All three love stories were acted out by the same pair of actors: Zhang Zhen, and Shu Qi. Both actors are good. Shu Qi was exceptionally good.

I actually enjoyed watching the first two stories.

1966 became interesting and even humorous after I got over the slowness, and settled to enjoy all the long narrative of May opening and closing the shop shutters, of them going across the river on make-shift looking boats. The story is sweet and subtle.

1911 was weird because it adopted silent movie tactics by displaying the dialogue immediately following the scene where the acting happened and dialogue silenced. It became like a play. All that emotions left unsaid, the up and down of a woman’s hope and disappointment. Her smile and tears. His self-righteous talk of nation and country and freedom, and his awkward silence when it came to her future and freedom. In addition, I loved the unique music that she sang throughout this story (It is called 南管古歌 in Chinese, can be loosely translated into Southern Song). Even though i have no clue what she was singing about. Ebb and flow of the music worked like magic, gave the story a sense of time and place.

I couldn’t stand 2005.

The story of 2005 is titled “The Dream of Youth”, while 1966 is “The Dream of Love” and 1911 “The Dream of Freedom.” So the story of 2005 was young and foolish. Is that the accurate decipher of today’s time? Meaningless chaos, betrayal, drug, noise that youth hailed as music, senseless sex. What really gets me was how the story of 2005 was not really a story. It makes no sense whatsoever. It is about a young girl that was lost, aimlessly wondering toward an abyss, draging everyone around along for the ride. It is the time of MTV. But it is not fit to be shown in the same slowness of an ancient Southern Song. Try to stretch any MTV clip from 3 minutes to 30. If i could use that as my background music and having access to the internet or my daily chores, then fine. But please don’t do this to me while i’m stuck in the dark and old threatre, dying to get out.

Throughout the story, the last 1/3 of the movie, i kept on remembering the Turkish writer Irfan Orga’s words: “The death of civilizations makes me tremble for the fate of our own, which has given so much less to posterity.” Only if the director of “Three Times” — Hou Hsiao-Hsien –could have put it so eloquently……and so quickly.

Here is a really good summary of the movie. Gui thinks it is actually better than the movie itself. 🙂 It is in Chinese, the article title means “Whom have you met during the Best of Times?” In Chinese, the movie’s title is actually “The Best of Times”

One thought on ““Three Times”

  1. Good review. 🙂 I think what’s especially agonizing about the third episode is that because it’s set in 2005, you’d expect the pace to pick up a bit (at least i did), and when it remained on par with 1911, with a senseless story, it’s doubly disappointing. Whereas for 1911, the pace seemed to be right, and the charactors and setting most intriguing. I liked the 南管古歌 too! 🙂 As for 1966, I might have liked it better if not for the guy sitting next to me: everytime “Smoke got in your eyes” was playing (which was too many times in my opinion), he wanted to join the chorus at the end, and therefore I had to sit through the whole song anticipating his croak.

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