HHH has a history of making short films and taking part of anthology films (even the brilliant Café Lumiere started out as an anthology project)—this is a three-pronged anthology film about love set in 1966, 1911 and 2005 (in that order) starring HHH muse Qi Shu and Chen Chang
Section 1 is easily the strongest—set in 1966 with the title “A Time For Love” (which is a bit of a nod to HHH’s breakthrough 1985 film A Time To Live and a Time to Die— it’s shot in long takes with very little dialogue. There’s an abundance of green – her pants, his shirt, the pool/billiards table, the sliding garage doors serving as sort of an Ozu/depth of field-like Shoji door. We get the luminous Platters song twice. Set in 1960’s, the use of music (like Nat King Cole in In the Mood For Love) and the narrative—you have to think of WKW’s masterpiece. This section is very sweet. The genius shot of the close-up of the hand holding (this set to “Rain and Tears” song. Like the Mahjong in Flowers of Shanghai we are just watching billiards here for stretches. Then we get Chen Chang’s character looking for Qi Shu
This is just an overall note and comment on this film and HHH’s “lesser” (yet still fantastic) works like Millennium Mambo– here he’s really a little too close to the characters in the frame. Maybe it’s because Qi Shu is so beautiful (he doesn’t make this mistake in Café Lumiere – which she isn’t in)—but to get the full beauty of the frame he needs to back up a little and set the frame properly like he does so well in Café Lumiere or A Time To Live and a Time to Die (or like Ozu clearly did in his works)
Section 2- the 1911 “A Time For Freedom” section is both a silent film (literally silent but shot in color) and very dialogue heavy (with card titles). I don’t get it. Strong use of reds just like the opening uses greens. There’s a reoccurring shot of the hall with a lantern—marvelous work. Touches on HHH’s Taiwan to Japan (national identity themes) reoccurring subject. Reoccurring songs (unlike The Platters we have folk songs here)
Section 3 is the 2005 section and feels like Millennium Mambo. Very blue in color—this is color as theme and form—wonderful work—it’s from Kieslowski’s trilogy but also HHH himself has influences other auteurs like Jia Zhangke’s Ash is the Purest White (that film has a ton in common with Three Times). Section 3 here is also largely without dialogue which makes me wonder why that middle section, where HHH uses the device of a silent film, has so much dialogue. It’s a mistake.
Recommend – the first section has brilliance in it that could be an HR or greater but I found sections 2 and 3 to be a little weaker even if I admire the connections and use of believable color design in the mise-en-scene