Reviewed fairly accurately and with a simmilar experience to mine, I have requoted US reviewer James Berardinelli instead of coming up with the same words myself (the capitalisation and bolding are mine to emphasise my point) :
Three Times comes from the mind of Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien. Comprised of a trio of 45-minute shorts starring the same male and female leads (Shu Qi, Chang Chien), the mini-films look at romance in three different time periods: 1911, 1966, and 2005. The first segment, which transpires in 1966, has the leads meet in a pool hall then correspond by mail once he joins the army. When he's home on leave, he tracks her down so they can spend time together. The 1911 episode is a drama between a master and his favorite concubine. He has promised her freedom, but she is so important to him that he cannot bear to let her go. Finally, in 2005, the female character is an epileptic singer involved with another woman as well as the man. Eventually, she turns her back on the lesbian, but there is a price to pay. (It's important to note that although the same actors are used in each time period, the characters they play are not related.)
Three Times features minimal dialogue. It is mostly about mood and images, and it moves at a glacial pace. Hou is in no hurry to speed things along. He frequently holds shots, lingering for longer than a conventional director might. A SIDE ORDER OF A CAFFEINATED BEVERAGE IS RECOMMENDED. The middle segment is an homage to the silent era. Although in color, this part is designed like a pre-talkie movie, complete with intertitles. I don't claim to have enjoyed Three Times in a traditional sense. I appreciated its artistry and admired its intentions, but I found the characters to be unpleasantly cold, and the filmmaker's style to be distancing. This is the kind of film that would have benefited from the forging of an emotional bond between the audience and the protagonists.