In Taiwanese and Mandarin with English subtitles, Three Times is a deliberate romantic drama that is captivated by love through the ages.
This delicately mounted triptych by celebrated Taiwanese helmer Hou Hsiao-hsien is the arthouse alternative to similar, much weaker genre studio fare like The Lake House.
Hou's two leads are Chang Chen and Shu Qi whose different characters appear in chronologically-set vignettes in 1966, 1911, and 2005.
From the outset, the connection between the performers is augmented by authenticity for time and place.
The first love story involves Chen's military man scouring Taiwan for a lissome, thick-lipped lady (Shu) earning money in a pool hall.
Then, back over a half a century, the presentation has affection for the motion picture before the advent of sound in observing a relationship between a political activist and a coquettish harlot. Intertitles relay the conversation in the most somnalent of the tales.
Finally, the contemporary segment is more erotically charged with a photographer and a neurologically-imbalanced singer. Each already has a lover, the latter with a lesbian.
While Chen acquits himself admirably, it is Qi, who, like Maggie Chen of In the Mood for Love and Ziyi Zhang of 2046, is highly watchable and commanding in each of her roles. She was known in her earlier days as an Asian Bettie Page wannabe.
Though Three Times won't be the passionate bittersweet charmer for many Western cineastes, a lyrical, understated tone proves mesmerizing from the contrast between radiant and chilly hues and an American-influenced soundtrack. Hou deftly insinuates the tensions that exist even more dramatically when communication is drastically enhanced through technology.