Dir: Hou Hsiao-Hsien Taiwan.2005. 120mins

Taiwanese director HouHsiao-Hsien is in the mood for love with Three Times, a tryptich ofromantic stories in which the same actors (Shu Qi and Chang Chen) playdifferent characters in 1966, 1911 and the present day. An ambitious notionresults in a slight, wisp of a film that is long on delicate charm but short onsubstance. The three stories are also self-contained items rather than the kindof narrative exercise that leads the viewer to look for connections andparallels.

The idea has worked moreeffectively down the decades from Michael Powell's The Life And Death OfColonel Blimp to Bill Forsyth's underappreciated Being Human. Lyrical andagonisingly slow even by the director's own standards, this will only attracthardcore arthouse fans and patient admirers of the director's past effortsfollowing its Cannes competition slot.

The first story, A Time ForLove, is the most conventional and probably the most engaging. Set in Kaohsiungin 1966, it tells of a young man heading off to complete his military servicein Taipei and the young woman he meets in a pool hall. When she moves on, heeventually pursues her across the country in an understated declaration of hisfeelings.

Tenderly realised, this isas sentimental as any American romantic fare (ie The Notebook), tugging at theheartstrings with a soundtrack of pop tunes from the period including Rain AndTears and Smoke Gets In You Eyes. There is little dialogue just looks andsmiles and some luminous images as the green baize of the snooker table isreflected back on to faces of the players.

The 1960s setting, the musicand the seductive, dream-like ambience all conspire to make this feel like WongKar-Wai lite and it can only suffer in comparison to that director's moreromantic endeavours.

The second story, A Time ForFreedom, is set in Dadaocheng in 1911 and is made more problematic by the factthat it is screened mute. A married diplomat and his admirer skirt around theirfeelings for each other, expressing tenderness as she combs his ponytail or asthey discuss they fate of others whose predicament is similar to their own.

The actors speak but thewords are conveyed via inter-titles in the manner of silent cinema. The onlysounds to be heard are a plaintive piano soundtrack and the snoring of a fellowcritic two rows away. It seemed unfair to the film's reception that such ademanding film as this should be shown so late in the official Cannescompetition selection.

The final tale, thedoom-laden A Time For Youth, is set in Taipei in 2005. This time the couple area frail young woman who suffers from epilepsy and a devoted photographer whohas come to mean more to her than the woman with whom she had shared her life.Passions simmer away beneath the placid surface of misunderstandings,rejections and modern relationship that flourish or fail from the safe distanceof text messages and e-mails.

Production company
Sino Movie

International sales
Ocean Films Distribution

Tien Wen Chu

Mark Ping-Bin Lee

Production design
Wern Ying Hwang

Shing Song Liao

Main cast
Shu Qi
Chang Chen