Thursday, October 27, 2005

Hou Hsiao Hsien – Three Times

Let’s begin this review by asserting that I’m not what you’d call a Hou Hsiao Hsien fan. I’ve enjoyed his recent films that I’ve seen and I’ll gladly see more, but I’m not among those who believe him to be god’s gift to cinema, the world’s greatest living filmmaker or a flat out genius. This is not to say that my opinion won’t shift in that direction in coming years as I see more of his films, but for now my position is simply that of the interested outsider looking at his oeuvre and the cult around it.

With that out of the way, I thoroughly enjoyed his latest offering Three Times and while I didn’t find it to be the best release of the FCMM like some of my friends, I found it to be an enjoyable and certainly beautiful addition to Hou’s cannon. Beautiful is perhaps the key word here as few people in the world can capture life in such a flat out gorgeous way as Hou Hsiao Hsien and his cinematographer Pin Bing Lee. Wong Kar Wai and Chris Doyle are the only direct competition that comes to mind and their beauty comes from a completely opposite source: whereas Wong’s world is that of fractured montage, creating beauty from Hong Kong’s neon jungle; Hou Hsiao Hsien directs the camera with a floating grace, capturing everything in long take and allowing time to sprawl out before the audience. He makes great use of this unique long-take aesthetic in Three Times and it’s difficult to describe the visuals and pacing as anything less than enthralling and hypnotic. In a world of Michael Bay 4-cuts-per-second action, films like this are a welcome relief.

Three Times is essentially a triple retelling of a similar love story in three different periods of Taiwan’s history. The first is a 1966 and is set to the romantic Chinese crooner songs of the period (sound familiar WKW fans?). The second takes place during the Japanese occupation of 1911 and is a silent film. Yes, everything is communicated visually, through intertitles and through the beautiful piano score that plays through the scene. The third scene takes place in 2005 and has the aesthetic style of his recent modern films…but not. Without spoiling anything, all of these short films work together to form a whole from which meaning is formed and I’d consider it impossible to miss one. Still, I had my preferences with 1911 being by far one of the most unique pieces of cinema I’ve seen this year, 1966 following and 2005 being last by default.

For fans of Hou Hsiao Hsien Three Times is a sure bet. It’s worth noting that the huge fan I went to see this with said it was possibly his best film and while that may have been hyperbole of the moment, it’s still as strong a recommendation as any for at least viewing it. Who knows if/when this will reach US shores but if ever it’s floating around on bittorent or lost amid a bunch of bad 2005 HK comedies in Chinatown, give it a chance.


Post a Comment

<< Home