I finally had a chance to see Three Times by director Hou Hsia Hsien. It is an amazingly beautiful movie. It's not exactly an action movie, as a matter of fact not much happens, but because of that small gestures become loaded with meaning. The final shot of the first episode is simply magnificent. Period.
The film tells three different love stories, set in three different periods of time, 1966, 1911 and 2005, played by the same two actors, Shu Qi and Chang Chen. The first episode, set in 1966, takes place in a pool-hall, where beautiful girls are employed to lure men inside. It is largely filmed from the back of the shop. We see the girls, and one in particular, play snooker with the customers, we see them open and close the door and clean the snooker table. And that's about it. It's all very subdued but also very "natural". You can sense the tension and the chemistry between the two main characters, the beautiful May and Chen. Throughout you feel as if something is about to happen.
The second episode is perhaps even more subdued. Set in 1911 it shows a slice of the life of a beautiful courtesan, who spends her days entertaining clients in a luxurious brothel. She yearns to escape and is secretly in love with a wealthy regular visitor, but he is too pre-occupied with his political activities, the revolutionary uprise against Taiwan's Japanese occupiers, to notice her feelings. This episode is styled as a silent movie, with music playing in the background, which makes the action appear as a ballet.
The third episode is set in 2005 and features a beautiful young singer who suffers from epilepsy. She is caught in a triangular relationship with a beautiful girl and a young photographer with whom she has an affair.
The three episodes are more than sketches of a historical period. They show three moments of a relationship, which is also why they aren't shown in chronological order, which would have been too obvious. Each episode is both the beginning and the end of another episode.
The film is beautifully photographed and exquisitely styled. When the sliding door to the pool-hall is opened light floods inside. If you liked In the Mood for Love by Wong Kar-Wai you will surely like Three Times.