Three love stories, set in three times. The pair of lead actors play the couple in each era. In 1911, she's a tea house courtesan and he's a regular. In 1966, he's an army boy on leave, and she's a pool shark. In 2005, She's a rock chick, and he's a photographer. Both are married.
Originally intended as a three-handed portmanteau, this exquisite exercise in style and subtle political symbolism instead showcases the different sides of Taiwanese maestro Hou Hsiao-hsien. The three vignettes all feature Shu Qi and Chang Chen playing, in turn, a snooker-hall hostess and a soldier seeking an old flame; a courtesan and a revolutionary; and an epileptic bisexual singer and a fascinated photographer.
Respectively set in 1911, 1966 and 2005, the stories not only capture the essence of their time, but also sequentially echo Wong Kar-Wai’s In The Mood For Love and Hou’s own Flowers Of Shanghai and Millennium Mambo. Historically and humanly insightful.
This is a fascinating exercise in utilising style to make subtle psychological and political statements. But while it looks superb, Hou Hsiao-hsien's triptych doesn't always avoid a melodrama that undermines its artistic integrity.